Archive for January, 2010

Weekly round-up [01/29/10]: Data Privacy!

Posted in weekly round-up on January 29th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

So I’ve been a little lax on my “weekly” reading round-ups, but slowly trying to get back in the swing of balancing out intake to output.

As many of you know, Thursday was Data Privacy Day.

  • Google released a video and written listing of its privacy principles, explaining how it uses its user data.
  • Speaking of privacy and google, a recent CNN piece by Bruce Schneier reveals that Chinese hackers were aided by US government policy
  • And of course, we can’t talk data privacy without talking Facebook, who posted 5 key privacy tips. Which is nice and all, but just another consolation prize in a long line of Facebook v. your data.
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb write about Facebook’s history with privacy with a distinctly positive view of the long-term implications. While I see his point, I remain somewhat discomforted not because of privacy, but because of ownership of my data.
  • An article from 2005 on CNET by Kimber Spradlin comparing privacy legislation in the US and Europe is interesting in this context. Although she focuses on commerce and security issues, she does note that in Europe, individual data can be loaned for use by companies, but ultimately is owned by the individual, an attitude that isn’t prevalent in the US. It brings me back to a point that I think always bears repeating, which is that “privacy” violations are often more about use and ownership than wanting to keep information locked away, about who has rights to profit from our information, and what control we have over that.

I’ve kind of avoided talking about the Ipad (which, I know it’s been pointed out ad nauseum by now, but . . . that’s what you decided to call it?). New technology is cool, but what I care more about is the technological use side of things. I want to see what happens once the new gadget has been incorporated into our lives and cultures, what standing needs it fulfills (and what new ones it brings to surface). But I did enjoy Annalee Newitz’s i09 piece about Apple’s Crap Futurism, which gets to the point of why I find the ipad so lackluster. For something that I think many of us fantasized about as a sort of sci-fi future artifact — something that would come in handy as we stage a guerilla resistence in the face of a fascist dystopia built on the rubble of the world is once knew — it just doesn’t seem all that useful. But again, we’ll see. Technology alone doesn’t change how we think. How we think about technology — its role, its capacities, its uses — is what moves us forward.

And, oh yeah! Jürgen Habermas, social theorist and communications guru before the time of gurus, now apparently has a twitter account. I can’t decide if it’s more awesome if it’s actually him or someone pretending to be him. Either way, I can’t believe it took so long.

Navigating Online Communites: a basic primer (part 2/2)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

Communities are complex social formations with a nuanced system of structures, roles, and behaviors. In the world of brands and corporations, this fact it too often overlooked in favor segmenting communities according to the priorities of the brand. Brands need to know who can help push their agenda amongst the community — communities are segmented into “influencers” and “everybody else.” Or, the oft-referenced “ladder of participation” gets trotted out. Though it has more segments, it nevertheless defines participation according to criteria of activeness.

Of course, who wields influence in a community and which activities (blogging, linking, reading, etc) are common are things that marketers need to know. But if we want to actually act upon this knowledge and influence those influencers, it’s equally important what aspects of a community different types of members influence and how (and why). Similarly, with the ladder of participation, it’s incredibly useful to understand what people do (or don’t do). However, as more and more people are adapting participatory technologies into their lives and communities, it becomes equally important to understand what they’re doing it for.

In short, communities and their members must be understood in the context of the community’s structures. Only then can we begin to understand not only who they are and what they do, but how their actions and their brand relationships will be received by the community at large.

Community Structures: Types, Roles, and Behaviors

Every community is different, of course. They develop unique systems and social contracts amongst the members that define the boundaries of the community. There are, however, a some definitions that we can use as a baseline to approach understanding communities online.

While I have my own loose , they aren’t nearly as thorough as what Lara Lee and Susan Fournier developed with over 30 years of research on community formation.

3 Types of Community Affiliation

Fournier and Lee describe 3 types of community affiliation:

Pools are groups who “have strong with a shared activity or goal, or shared values, but loose associations to one another” whose affiliation is created through “shared activity, goal, or values.”

KEY EXAMPLES: Apple fans, Political Parties, Ravelry

Webs are groups who “have strong one-to-one relationships with others who have similar or complementary needs,” where affiliation is primarily defined through “personal relationships”

KEY EXAMPLES: Facebook, Twitter, cancer-survivor networks

Hubs are groups who “have strong connections to a central figure and weaker associations with one another,” and define their affiliation through “a charismatic figure.”

KEY EXAMPLES: Oprah, Joss Whedon, Obama

These categories, of course, are not absolute and there’s plenty of cross-over. For instance, we might characterize a typical high school social system as a web that has within it a number of different hubs and pools. Similarly, Obama-supporters can easily also be seen as a pool, and Apple fans might cluster around Steve Jobs as a hub.

Community Roles

Fournier and Lee also outline 18 typical roles that individuals take on in communities:

1. Mentor: “teaches others and shares expertise”

2. Learner: “enjoys learning and seeks self-improvement”

3. Back-up: “acts as a safety net for others when they try new things”

4. Partner: “encourages, shares, and motivates”

5. Storyteller: “spreads the community’s story throughout the group”

6. Historian: “preserves community memory, codifies rituals and rites”

7. Hero: “acts as a role model within the community”

8. Celebrity: “serves as a figurehead or icon of what the community represents”

9. Decision-Maker: “makes choices affecting the community’s structure and function”

10. Provider: “hosts and takes care of other members”

11. Greeter: “welcomes new members into the community”

12. Guide: “helps new members navigate the culture”

13. Catalyst: “introduces members to new people and ideas”

14. Performer: “takes the spotlight”

15. Supporter: “participates passively as an audience for others”

16. Ambassador: “promotes the community to outsiders”

17. Accountant: “keeps track of people’s participation”

18. Talent Scout: “recruits new members”

I would also include two additional roles that are prevalent amongst content-creation communities:

Curator: organizes and curates community content for easy navigation

Enabler: scaffolds the creation process to encourage community content production

Community Behaviors & Activities

Finally, all communities have their own set of specific activities, but the rise of participatory culture and the networked information economy has lead to the increasing scale and visibility of a general set of behaviors.

Building from Clay Shirky’s work, Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine describes four key modes of online participation: Sharing, Cooperation, Collaboration, and Collectivism

Sharing: One of the most fundamental logics of social participation online. We use YouTube to share videos, Twitter to share status updates, Flickr to share images, Delicious to share links, blogs to share ideas and information.

Cooperation: Sites like Flickr aren’t just used to share photos, but tag, group, organize, and reuse under creative commons. Through cooperation, it becomes more than just a sharing platform — it’s a vast archival resource. Similarly, aggregation sites like Digg, Reddit, and Slashdot use cooperation to “steer public conversation.”

Collaboration: Collaboration describes more organized and focused cooperative efforts, where groups and individuals pool resources toward common goals. Open-source software is a key example, where many contribute labor and expertise towards shared software development.

Collectivism: More clearly structures and potentially ideologically driven examples of sharing, cooperation, and collaboration activities.

Thus ends the basic primer on online communities, compiled from observations from my work at the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium and the work of many individuals way more awesome than myself.

The bottom line though really is that communities — online and off — are social and cultural formations. Understanding the surface trends and tools is the first step, but if we must also seek an understanding of the deeper driving structures if we hope to develop long-term strategic provisions in addition to short-term tactical responses.

Navigating Online Communites: a basic primer (part 1/2)

Posted in media, research on January 20th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

Over the past few years, I’ve written countless times about brands and online communities and through it all there’ve been several concepts and principles that seem to crop up again and again. It seemed about time to lay out the most basic and general principles more systematically.

Brands and Communities: 3 Core Principles

Brands understand the value of online communities and the power of social media in making sure a brand isn’t just a product, but a cultural resource and symbol. Online communities are one of the best ways to get to know your consumers, deepen loyalty, and broaden a brand’s cultural and marketing reach.

But building a community that is loyal, ef?cient, and real is about more than just getting talked about. It’s about more than just having a Facebook page, or twitter followers, or blog comments. It’s about fostering real engagement by understanding how communities work, how they use technology, and what kind of contribution
the brand can bring into the mix. In short, in thinking about

1. Courting (not creating) communities

Many brands, when building a social presence online believe themselves to be in the business of creating communities. But a brand’s community isn’t a coherent entity with the singular goal of promoting the brand. While an online community can certainly act as a full-throttle promotional team, they do so because being part of the community serves a variety of individual purposes.

Brands, therefore, must thinking of themselves as courting communities. The digital world is densely networked and no consumer is an island. They’re a part of active communities that have their own interests and goals. Brands have to ?gure how to make themselves of value to these communities if they hope to integrate themselves and build strong ties.

Find where your communities are and listen, learn what tools they use, what content they ?nd compelling, what tone they converse in. Find out what matters to them, learn from what they do, and how to participate on their terms. Only then can the brand build the trust and understanding it needs to cultivate a strong community. Look to key community members and get them to be intermediaries for you. They know better than any marketer how to speak to their own communities.

2. Be the means, not the ends

Brands can build strong communities by becoming the connective tissue between members. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Fournier and Lee state that in brand communities “brands are a means to an end, not an end in itself” (Fournier and Lee 2009). This seems simple enough, but it’s a misstep many brands make when the ask “how can we get people talking about us?” or even “how can we get people talking to us?”

The simple answer is that you don’t.

Brands build communities when they get people to talk through them, about and to one another. In a rich, lasting brand community, brands are the tools of communication, not the subject. It might seem counterintuitive, but acting as the connective tissue, brands can build deeper and more lasting relationships with their consumers because it integrates the brand into the rich social relationships consumers form with one another.

3. Cultivate, don’t control

One of the strongest instinct marketers and PR ?rms have when dealing with communities is to control them. No one wants people to say bad things about the brand, so there is an urge to stamp down con?ict or “misuse” of just negative feelings. However, trying to control conversations and opinion will only generate distrust and resentment. Instead, see con?ict as an opportunity to engage in conversation and get valuable feedback.

Be transparent in all your interactions in the community. Efforts to hide intentions, obfuscate mistakes, or redirect blame when con?icts arise will only fuel the ?re. Online communities operate on collective intelligence — you might be able to fool one person or even most, but you can’t keep things hidden from large communities, all working together and sharing labor and information. Transparency fosters trust, good-will, and can turn dissatisfaction into an opportunity to change minds and improve relationships.

Weekly round-up [01/15/10]: Culture Matters, Globalization and the networked world, and Google v. China

Posted in weekly round-up on January 15th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

Like many, I’ve been following the whole Google/China situation with some interest, it part because it really touches upon one of the central tensions surrounding increasingly globalized cultural and information networks and technological/legal infrastructures still organized around the nation-state. There’s been a ton written on it, but a few more comprehensive/interesting pieces:

  • Of course, the official google blog statement regarding the matter and the Chinese government’s response.
  • Darmishta over at the Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw blog has a pretty solid news round-up of the issue, including a link to the open letter from Issac Mao, a blogger in China, appealing to Google not to pull out.
  • And I admit, I’m biased, but C3 also has a good roundup of key pieces in the discussion, as well as some commentary on the whole global/national tensions present in digital culture along the language and acess angle.
  • ReadWriteWeb’s Richard Macmanus also discusses how this relates to google’s big competitor, Baidu. And Sarah Lacy over at TechCrunch points out that the whole Google or Baidu question isn’t just about China.

On the globalization and media tip, a few less newsy and more thinky things:

  • Starting first with Aswin Punathambekar’s syllabus for his Media Globalization graduate seminar, which has lots and lots of great readings to dig into for anyone interested in how to think about media in a transnational context. Which, I think given how relevant we consider Google/China to our everyday lives, should be just about everyone.
  • In Aswin’s syllabus is a link to a piece by Amitava Kumar about the limits of postcolonial theory, which in a way is also about the limits of theory as a whole.
  • I’ve also recently been recommended the work of David Harvey, which I’ll start in on as soon as I procure some ebooks.

Back to more immediate media + culture stuff:

  • If you haven’t by now, everyone should be reading Grant McCracken’s new book Chief Culture Officer. I admit, it’s another bias of mine, not just because Grant is full of awesome 24/7, but also the book basically makes a case for why people like me and many of my friends and colleagues should exist. Cultural understanding is crucial to the health of corporations, brands, media producers and it isn’t just something that happens. It’s a studied, systematic process, a skill-set that should be nurtured and deployed.
  • A couple of pieces following Ford’s push into the media space: Karl Greenberg over at Marketing Daily and the AdAge Mediaworks piece from Craig Daitch. Have yet to gather my thoughts on this, but it does seem something worth watching.
  • Finally, in a back to roots kind of move, I’m looking to start in on some of the readings listed in Henry Jenkin’s Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0 syllabus. I didn’t even realize it when I first glanced at it, but if you scroll down to the section on global media, there’s a chapter from my thesis in there.

On a totally random note, I just realized that the two videos that were part of a project that I did with Kevin Driscoll, Whitney Trettien, and Lauren Silberman at MIT regarding Soulja Boy back in 2007, where a bunch of us in lab coats and GNU Richard Stallman danced the Crank Dat dance now has nearly half a million hits (almost 390,000 on one, and 80,000) on another. Granted, these numbers are nothing by YouTube standards, but still, a bit trippy for a random class project video done on an east campus lawn.

back to blogging

Posted in life on January 13th, 2010 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

So I’ve been on a brief blogging hiatus the past couple of weeks because I’ve noticed a couple of startling behavior patterns. I can no longer go into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea without taking my phone with me (you know, in case I get some email in the couple of minutes it takes to boil water) or sit down to watch something on TV without also reading blog feeds and fiddling with wordpress themes. I recently had a two-hour conversation with someone sitting right next to me, in my apartment, entirely over Gchat.

Which is to say, there’s multitasking, and then there’s justifying a pathological need to do too much stuff at once, so I took a bit of a breather, read some books, caught up on some TV, had tea without email. Flipside, here I come!

But now I’m back and ready for more thinkiness and blabbering and a not-quite-frequent-but-semi-regular blogging schedule.