Sharing without pausing for thought risks making fools of us – as individuals and as communities.
Critical consumption in internet use (crap detection as Howard Rheingold puts it) is a skill, or literacy, citizens of the web have been honing for years. We have build good habits – wondering about the provenance of data in a blog post, who is behind a campaigning website, checking the edit history of a Wikipedia article before we trust its accuracy.
Take the case of Kim Stafford. An act of fancy dress satire leads to online mob-bullying of a student by people who take her lampooning of Tea Party types.
People think they know what they are seeing, think that the context is the conversation. The thing about mobs is if you’re not alert to your actions and intentions, you don’t necessarily know you are part of one.
Uncritical sharing, guileless passing on of memes and stories online doesn’t just matter in extreme cases like this – it’s an everyday affair.
We see the image, and pass judgement and share before we really know what is going on. News organisations have struggled with with the tension between immediacy and truth as news breaks for years – increasingly it also a matter of individual responsibility and perhaps reputation.
People – friends, colleagues and connections alike – think less of someone, pay less attention to them, turn down the volume if their judgement is continually off the mark in what they say and share online.
We have all felt that pang of embarrassment, mixed in with surprise and a little annoyance, when someone we thought was intelligent re-posts a dismal listicle, urban myth or ridiculous scare story. Sometimes a little gentle mocking in reply, or a discreet correction will help them realise their error.
another major step in Google stepping away from the website as the core unit of the web, towards the page and its author – with authorship and author reputation a core part of how search works.
This is something my friend James Byford drummed into me. The web wasn’t designed to connect websites, but individual things – information, pages, paragraphs, people, objects .
This is how we experience and use the web, for the most part. In bits.
Clusters and hubs and collections are important on the web, in terms of making things findable, their reputation more readily understood. But when thinking about online presence, a website isn’t always the best model to be thinking about.
We nod when people talk about content ecosystems, but I’m not sure we always think about what that really means. The overlapping and interdependent complexities of reputations and networks are befuddling. We retreat to manageable, quantifiable metaphors.
Klout and PeerIndex (and probably others) are reputation scoring merchants. If you let them access your Twitter, Facebook and other social media profiles they will give a clutch of scores about how influential you are.
On one level this just formalises one of the favourite games of social media early adopters. LinkedIn was a game for some, blogging wa a game for some, so was Facebook. So were a bunch of also-ran platforms that didn’t last.
Collecting connections and watching for stats is useful sometimes – this kind of little game can get you cheerfully addicted to a new platform, holidng your interest until you have learned what it is really about.
Problem is, that if some people are playing a game with their social platforms – gain followers, get re-tweeted, +1’d or Like’d – it makes them less useful.
For that kind of behaviour, PeerIndex and Klout are a scoreboard aggregator and encourage play across all platfroms.
It’s shallow usefulness, to borrow a prefix from Umair Haque.
It’s not the fault of Klout and Peerindex. They are seeing a behaviour and building a service around it.
Now they are looking for a business model, which leads us to promotions nominally based on your reputation score. Peerindex came up with a kind of black card for its highest scoring members, Klout has offers based on your score and was recently part of how Spotify rolled out in North America.
For instance, if I lived in America my Klout score would entitle me to a take-away sandwich from Subway:
Or would have before all the other middle-ranking reputation players had rushed in and swiped all those pulled pork rolls…
Harmless? Well, there may be a problem here. Gamefication begets gaming, or at least more overt gaming…
Some see gaming the system as laudible, the kind of game everyone needs to play to get ahead. This is sometimes part of the “personal branding” mentality. I think that sometimes successful players are distorting their reputation and personal networks and that maybe that’s not that useful in the long run.
Online reputation is an extension, a real part of your actual reputation, not a game world to wander into… Metrics and incentives can be very useful, as any manager worth their salt will tell you. They can also warp behvaiours and destroy value inadvertantly.
Personally, I think Klout etc. are things to look at sparingly, with detached interest where possible. Behaving differently to boost a score is a slippery slope that may be corrosive to your real reputation even as the numbers climb higher…
: : Thanks to Andrew Girdwood, whose Google+ comments prodded me to air some of these thoughts.
Interesting to read of the English teacher who encourages their pupils to cyber-stalk strangers. It’s an excellent, practical lesson for them about just how much information people reveal about themselves online, often without considering the consequences.
Wanting to teach the kids in my class about concepts of digital footprint and online safety, I used three people well known from the edusphere as examples: Will Richardson, Jabiz Raisdana and Jeff Utecht. I introduced these three friends to the students in my class by giving them only a photo and a name. I simply told the kids in my class: find out all you can about these three guys.
The students made a list of places to search. They started with simply Google and then soon expanded to other places such as flickr, youtube, twitter, wordpress, linkedin, delicious and facebook. They expanded into a Yahoo domain search and searching other sites such as whois.net. Soon their lists of information began to grow.
Take a look at his blog post to see the detail they uncovered and noted on their classroom flip-charts. Granted the stalking targets are people who have chosen to live in plain sight online for some time, but the exercise is still a very useful one. This is an example of just one:
Stalk. Stalking. Stalkerish. These are words which have found their way from the news pages into everyday vocabulary.
At the irritating, but mostly harmless end of things, I’ve heard young people describing someone who won’t take being ignored lightly (posting to their Facebook wall when texts, emails and DMs have been ignored is described as “stalkerish”).
Slightly more blood-chillingly there are the encounters with strangers that remind us that living in public online is not something to take too lightly. Shea Sylvia’s account of an unsettling phonecallin a restaurant from an unknown other while eating at a restaurant, is a reminder for us all that geotagging out location openly may not always be a good idea.
What a fantastic way, then, this teacher has found to show young people how managing their web shadow (or digital footprint as he terms it) is something to take very seriously indeed.
I really enjoyed it, and played with the idea for a bit, then decided to write a book about the subject. It’s called Web Shadows and will be finished any day now * ahem *. The paper (yes, paper) version will be out in March 2010
It’s a book for my friends who aren’t totally obsessed with the web and social media, but do have a creeping awareness that what is said about them online matters and that they maybe need to look after their personal reputation a little.
If you take my iCrossing e-book Brands in Networks, I guess Web Shadows will be People in Networks. But that would spell PIN, and anyway I get told off for talking about networks too much, so Web Shadows it almost certainly is.
Anyway, here’s my top ten pieces of advice as they stand today. If you let me know what you think I’d be very grateful:
1 Don’t think of online as another world: The web’s more like a layer over the world we live in, not a “cyberspace” that only geeks live in. It’s part of our lives. The more we think of it as part of the world we live in, the better we will be at using it and looking after ourselves in relation to our online presence.
2 Check your Google shadow (and keep checking it): make sure you can see what others see when they look for you online, wether that’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever. (Jeff Jarvis’s Google shadow phrase is what got me to “web shadows” as a title for the book.)
3 Be the world’s leading source of information about yourself: Ideally you want people to find your website, or cluster of social network profiles before they find anything else.
4 Understand networks (and which networks are important to you): Explore the online world around you. Which spaces matter to people that matter to you: employers, colleagues, friends, etc. It doesn’t hurt to start to understand network theory 101. Principles like “every node that joins the network doubles its value” help you to feel less like a supplicant and more like a network citizen. A part of it, not a passive. An owner among owners of a shared space, with rights – and responsibilities to the network.
5 Learn “crap detection” skills: One of Howard Rheingold’s four digital literacies, “crap detection” (the phrase comes from Hemingway) is about being a critical user of the web. Spotting the scams, attention tricks, the bahaviours that means that someone you have met online isn’t a person, or is one you need to stay away from. It’s part experience and part knowing how to use the network technically to understand – sometimes literally – where someone is coming from.
6 Be useful to your networks: You don’t need to turn into a pain-in-the-whatever professional networking douche to be successful in looking after your web shadow. Be yourself. Make the most of the things that you do – put your presentations and articles from the newsletter on SlideShare, bookmark interesting things you find on Delicious, maybe try out blogging even. once
7 Think about private and public: The web is a public place. You’re going to need to think about the dividing lines between your professional self online and your private self – where are they going to be? Get to know the privacy settings on Facebook for starters… And don’t forget to tell your family about them too.
8 Remember: you’re always on the (permanent) record online: “You’re never off the record,” we used to tell clients when I worked in PR. It’s true all the time when we’re online now. Don’t say anything you might regret later. If you are angry: calm down. Been drinking? Sober up or shut the web connection down. And the record may be permanent, like a digital tattoo.
9 Get a thicker skin: So you’re always on the record – so what? Everyone else is too. You’re going to make mistakes, get into arguments, look a bit foolish sometimes. The alternative is being a digital hermit, which… well… if you want to, I suppose.
10 Make it work for you: So we have had email addiction, SMS addiction and now, if you want to, you can become a social web addict. Or you can learn how the social web works and use it to enhance your life. Articles and posts like this one are good while you’re learning the tools’ basics – then you need to make your own mind up about how it should work for you.
Image: Photoshopping Obama into Rasta colours might not be a plus point if you’re applying for a job at the White House…
According to The Economist, applicants for jobs in the new Obama adminstration are undergoing rigorous background checks, including submitting “a history of their activities on the Internet, including copies of any emails which might embarrass Mr Obama, links to social networking pages, blogs, and the usernames or “handles” under which any of them were written”.
So knowing what your web shadow looks like is going to be a must there then…
This may have been an election campaign that played to the social meida grandstand, but old rules of politics and the media are still very much in play.
If we’re to be optimistic, the Economist has a bit of wishful thinking:
Perhaps, when dirt on almost everybody becomes readily available, politics will lose its hypocritical, moralistic tone.
I tend to be an optimist, and in accepting the considerable benefits of living in part online in social media, have learned more and more to be open, while also being clear with myself about where the boundaries of one’s public online life are set.
For some time we’ve had the concept of Google Shadows – what people find out about you when they put your name into Google (Jeff Jarvis is who I heard using it first).
I like the idea. A shadow is something that’s always with us, that follows us, that’s not separate. We increasingly need to be conscious of the shadows online cast by our actions in everyday life.
It’s not just Google, though, these days, but our other online places, all the public and private databases and spaces in our working and personal lives and in our social graphs, of course.
We need to not only be aware of what our web shadows are, but how we affect them through all of our everyday actions. Sometimes when people want to know more about you, the shadow is all they will see.
Here’s some of the most interesting posts and articles that I’ve been chewing over:
When a Governor in Arizona’s indiscretion was picked up by an open mic Lawrence Lessig takes CNN to task for broadcasting it, and muses on how it seems we have to “remember that there are a million privacy invading technologies surrounding us”. The discussion in the comments is very good indeed.
Like Lessig, private investigator Steve Rambam, summons the spectre of of life in the Cold War communist bloc in this video of his presentation called Privacy is Dead: Get Over It. Rather than worrying about Big Brother though, the proliferation of digital photography and video, among other things, means it’s more “Little Cousin” – as in we never know when we’re being recorded by one another, even inadvertently.
Rambam, an individual with a colourful Google shadow, to say the least, was also quoted in an article in the Economist’s the Perils of Sharing, part of the newspaper’s The World in 2009 special edition. More on that later…
Lastly, the brilliant David Spark’s 12 Great Tales of De-Frieinding reminds us how quickly we are having to evolve new social strategies to deal with relationship issues online.
In part, it follows an experiment at the MIT Media Lab where 100 students electronic trails (emails, calls, etc) are recorded and followed. It also recalls how the data about us can be mined to interesting effect:
In 2006, Sense Networks, based in New York, proved that there was a wealth of useful information hidden in a digital archive of GPS data generated by tens of thousands of taxi rides in San Francisco. It could see, for example, that people who worked in the city’s financial district would tend to go to work early when the market was booming, but later when it was down.
One suspects that early morning cabs are pretty plentiful at the moment then… Anyhow, Dr Pentland, who heads the project describes this sort of thing as “reality mining”.
A map expressing collaboration between students in an MIT Media Lab experiment
First, she reflects a change in the demands of the market away from her sub-editing skills to a more diverse range of content creation and blog-related editorial.
Second, it was great to hear about the very positive impact that first blogging and then Twitter had had on her ability to pull in work. Blogging’s a direct-to-market micro-business for her, while her personal blog and Twittering helps her maintain and grow her professional network.