Category Archives: relationships

Detoxing in Facebook

Detoxing my facebookAfter all that winterval indulgement it’s time to strip everything back and detox. So today I slipped into Facebook for a while and removed myself from the more trivial or no-longer relevant groups and removed a large number of applications.

I no longer have a fun or super wall – so don’t try to send anything there. I’m missing out on gifts, pimps, zombies etc. I couldn’t say goodbye to my pets quite so callously or LOLCats and of course, real stuff associated with real people like Hugh’s widget and Luke’s Blog Friends have to stay. I’m going to try really really hard to resist the lure of useless crap but I’m human and a sucker for shiny things so be gentle with me.

I’m not joining in with this FB backlash, they’re not worth it – I really can’t get my knickers in a twist about whether Scoble’s there (I was still in his friend queue anyway…) or whether Che Guevara is an appropriate icon to use – I think Robert was being more Tuttle than Trotsky in all of this. As for their draconian TOS, if they don’t change, they’ll become irrelevant and they’ll be left with a whole load of my shit that’s even less valuable to them than the few pence it’s worth now. Just like friendster, ryze, ecademy, myspce etc before them. At least it seems easier to get your account deleted with FB, you just write a script that pings your page more often than a hooman might and Bob’s in your extended family.

Tuttle Club – getting to the nub of why

So in the previous post I went on (and on) about relationships online and off-. The next point is that we seem to have grown up with a prejudice that online relationships are “not as real” or “not as good” as those we create offline.

While I am prone to this myself, when I think about it, it turns out to be piffle – people are people and the way we relate to each other doesn’t deteriorate as a matter of course just because we do it online. Some people behave very badly to others online, in ways that they wouldn’t dream of doing “IRL” but I’d argue that most of us now have more than one solely online relationship which is every bit as good as some of those that we have with people we see every day. And what is interesting, and I’ve noted before, is that online activities enhance relationships that began offline and vice versa. The distinction is disappearing, but I think that while things are still blurry, at this stage of our learning about relationships mediated by technology it’s a good time to look at some of the dynamics of how we get things done in this environment.

As well as Online/Offline, there are two other dimensions that I think are important to look at. These are the Formal/Informal and Group/Personal axes. We’re more used, I suppose, to thinking about the informal/formal axis in the context of the group, but I see both in my personal, individual life too (though there it can be easier to think about it as what’s conscious and unconscious). I don’t like gratuitous use of 2×2 matrices any more than the rest of you, so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it’s worth thinking about this space.

One of the first things I notice when thinking about this is that on the one hand social software is bringing more of a focus on the informal lives of groups (organisations, businesses if you like) while it brings a kind of formality at the individual level, by simply codifying our relationships, making things explicit that before were just understood – turning huge chunks of our personal lives into data (which by the way still doesn’t seem to belong to us – but that’s a whole other VRM kettle of fish – and I’m glad brains like Doc’s and Adriana’s are working on it).

2by2shift.jpg

However, that’s just another diversion from the story. Phew. The real point is what we can see when we extend the 2×2 to a 2x2x2 (cue: strangers in the night) with online/offline as the third axis.

In a purely offline world, think about how new stuff happens. I have an idea one morning, maybe in the shower, it percolates up out of my unconscious in a formal-ish way, maybe I write something down but perhaps I just take it in my head to work. Around the coffee pot, or the water cooler, I have a conversation with people and mention my idea. “OMG,” somebody says, “that is awesome, I’ve been thinking about just the same thing” – (OK, so this doesn’t *always* happen, often people have more interesting things to talk about, like their cat’s arse) “and what we could also do is X, Y and Z”. “OK,” I say, “let’s get together later and talk it through” So we do, and we work it out and we come up with a really cool way of expressing it and it gets adopted as part of the way we do things around here (or a ‘pro-see-dure’ if you are a dork).

2by2process.jpg

In the purely online world, there’s a similar process. “Ping! Idea!” (personal/informal) write on blog (personal/formal-ish), a few people comment, create a google group or suchlike, knock up prototype, show it to friends (group/informal), come up with neat way of inviting new people in – bang – it’s an every day part of the web that we suddenly can’t do without (group/formal).

When the online/offline distinction gets blurry, the group/informal space is the interesting one, but unless we work for YaGoogleSoft, or are willing to sell our souls to Starbucks, we don’t have a wifi-enabled space to meet and chat around the coffee machine, dropping our little ideas into the conversation and seeing where they might end up. So the Tuttle Club idea is to create a physical space for the rest of us to play around with the offline counterpart to the read/write web and online social networking and to see what happens when (at least in this city) we have somewhere to facilitate that online/offline bootstrapping for a whole group of people who have little in common yet except that they’ve seen the social media light (and that, if we’re lucky, will be tomorrow’s story).

Relationships, Online and Off-

fbfwSo here’s some of the thinking behind the Tuttle Club idea. I’ve talked mostly about what it should be, to help people understand, but there are actually some important things to say about *why*, which really help me see what is important to keep in and what things can go by the wayside.

Once upon a time all there was was offline – so much so that we didn’t think about it, we just walked over the street and talked to people. And they took our lunch money and told us to bugger off. Sometimes we built more positive relationships too. I think it’s odd that we have to remind ourselves that this was the case but we do, increasingly, especially as time goes by and more and more people come into the world who’ve never known anything different – you know, people who were *born* in the 80′s – weird.

Then we moved into a kind of binary place where you were either one or the other – from 9600 to 14.4k to 8MB broadband, for lots of people you’re still either online or offline and online means being sitting at a computer.

However increasingly it’s whatever (and wherever) works. The boundary is blurring and we can see a time when we’ll be always on, which means that on is as meaningless as off used to be, the distinction may disappear.

A quick reminder – what we’re talking about is ways of people connecting with each other. When I first got an internet connection pre web, there were three things pretty much that you’d want to do. Email, Usenet News and MUD (Multi-user Dungeon) – ways of finding things like gopher, veronica and archie were ways of finding people who’d created cool stuff as much as finding the cool stuff itself. I never was much of a gamer, so I was attracted to reading and writing and getting to know people through usenet and e-mail. Now Web 2.0 is supposedly doing something new, but it’s simply giving people more sophisticated ways of doing what we’ve always been doing on the net.

So I’m asking whether there’s any real difference between online relationships and those we do offline, whether you draw the distinction between based on where they started, or where most transactions currently take place. And the answer seems to me, to be no, there isn’t any significant difference, what is more important is that relationships can be enhanced by interaction online and off- and that these different types of interactions build a deeper, stronger sort of relationship than those that only happen in one “place”. I have more and more of these relationships, people who once I would only ever have read or read about, I see face to face and we get to know each other better and then our relationship online is even stronger.

My “friendship” group then (and put on one side the question of the definitions of “friend”) gets bigger and more diverse and so the question of the Dunbar’s number comes up – 150? WTF? I have more than 300 facebook friends and for every one of them, I can think of a little circle of others who aren’t there, or whom I’ve not yet linked to.

The Facebook friend wheel shines a bit of light on this. I can see the little communities, constituencies, compartments that hold people together in the way they are grouped around the wheel. This is how we’ve managed the transition between the pre-industrial world of only being able to meet at most a hundred or so people in your life to where we are now where potentially you can have some contact with hundreds of thousands. We compartmentalise. These are my friends in my team. These are people I go to the pub with. These are my “friends” in Accounts Payable. These are the people I know who are into ska. These are my golf friends. (This is the me-focused way of looking at the fact that I belong to multiple communities as JP’s talking about this morning). This reduces the cognitive load – if we’re only really comfortable with up to 150 people but we have to deal with more, then we can handle it by divide and conquer – we only have to deal with a smaller number at any one time. Before social software we all knew the potential stress of having members of more than one group meet up with each other (that’s one reason why weddings can break people). Before this point we could get away with being different people in different situations and to a certain extent be dishonest with some groups of people about who we are or who we want to be. What online social networks like Facebook do is make these communities or compartments explicit and then shares that with everybody. It therefore just got harder to keep those people apart – great opportunities for innovation in my social graph, but oh bugger, *they* are going to find out about *that*.

Now, this is just a prelude to the other thoughts that I’ve included in the presentations I’ve done at Web2Open and barcamplondon3 and the feedback I’ve had is that it’s really useful to see the background. As usual, I’ve done it the wrong way round, should really have written it out, then made a presentation then talked about it, but I really can’t be arsed to do things the way I should. I’m writing this at barcamp by the way, so that might just be a reaction to being in a place where the average person thinks that it’s *very important* to do things *the right way* gaaah!