Tales from the Net

a work in progress

Sunday, August 22, 2010


We think that highlighting the stories of people and groups who are using social network sites as part of their day-to-day lives for staying in touch with old friends and meeting new ones, learning, personal growth, professional development, and political activism will help people better understand the transformative possibilities of this medium, and give a new lens for exploring the tough issues related to privacy and free speech.

Introducing … Tales from the Net , January 2008

When we started working on Tales from the Net, one of our major goals was to demystify social networks, both to make them less scary to people who don’t have experience with them .  Since then, Facebook’s grown so explosively that today the majority of people in the US have a Facebook account.  People feel safe there, and for many it’s become a big part of the fabric of their lives, a core channel for day-to-day communications with friends and families.  Demystification accomplished.  Thanks, Facebook!

But by itself, Facebook gives a very partial view of the possibilities.  Most of the stories we’re planning to tell in Tales from the Net are set on sites with a different feel and different styles of interacting: lengthy discussions as opposed to brief wall posts and status updates, personas and multiple identities as opposed to a “true name” policy, much more tolerant of political speech and sexuality.

So the book has evolved into something of a travelog, visiting different social network sites and telling the stories we find there. We’ll spend the most time at places we’ve hung out at over the years: tribe.net, Seducersworld, free-association, Twitter, and yes even Facebook. We’ll also make shorter side trips to exotic locales like Lostpedia, IfWeRanTheWorld, 4Chan, the Oil Drum, and Dreamwidth.


posted by Jon at 10:09 am  

Monday, August 16, 2010

We’re back!

After a lengthy hiatus, we’re delighted to report that we’ve resumed work on Tales from the Net.  It’s a different world on social network sites now than it was back in 2008, so our focus for the book is somewhat different, but the underlying idea is the same.  By highlighting the stories of people and groups who are using social network sites as part of their day-to-day lives — for staying in touch with old friends and meeting new ones, learning, personal growth, professional development, and political activism — we think we can help give a better understanding the transformative possibilities of this medium and exploring the tough issues related to privacy and free speech.

More details soon!

posted by Jon at 4:57 pm  

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Live from the Portland Kidlit conference: Promoting your book and yourself on Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking tools

UPDATE, 9/28: Greg’s handout is online at the new Book Promotion on the Web wiki.  Check it out!

Greg’s doing a presentation at the Kidlit ’08 conference in Portland … and since it’s a blogging conference, I figured I might as well try to live-blog it.  So here goes!

Greg posted about this last month here on Tales from the Net; there’s also a lot of information on the wiki from his Computers, Freedom, and Privacy presentation.  And check out his Web 2.0/social network poem on his blog Gottabook, I’m pretty well connected — part of last week’s Poetry Friday.

Photo credit: Hanging Books by TimTom.ch found via Creative Commons search


posted by Jon at 1:19 pm  

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book promotion on social networks

To get ready for my mini-workshop at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference on using social networks for book promotion, I helped gather a slew of tips and ideas on a wiki. And while there is a lot of great stuff on the wiki now (which is still growing), one thing was clear as I talked to person after person and read story after story: there’s no magic formula for online book promotion, no one thing to do. Not only that, quantifiable results are hard to come by – even authors who love their MySpace can’t point to specific book sales from it. So… should you spend time promoting books via social networks? Absolutely!

A key to thinking about using social networks to promote your book is to forget looking for quantifiable results, at least in terms of number of books sold from any specific online presence. Instead, think of social networks as a place to tell your story – to let people know about your book, about you, about where you (and your book) are, about why they might be interested in what you have to offer

Once you’re thinking that way, look at all the possible upsides both in the short term (you go viral! You get a great review from someone who ran into you online!) and longer term (you build up a reputation; you continue to grow your network of support, you get more reviews from people who run into you online). The persistence of information and contacts in the online world and the ability to grow connections and join communities in a way that wasn’t as easy as before is a big advantage to marketing on social networks.

The example of Leinad Zeraus’ self-published novel Daemon shows that you don’t need to think of promotion in terms of creating a best-seller. Instead, Zeraus’ sales of around 1,200 copies enabled him to sell the rights to his book and a sequel to Dutton (who, of course, will have to deal with book promotion when their version comes out!). Zeraus and his novel have branded themselves… have connected fans together… have built support, all of which have created a demand for him and his product. Ultimately, that’s the goal of any type of marketing, of course, but in the online world you have the chance to do it yourself (and for free).

The tips on the wiki are some of the ways people have been promoting books on social networks so far, and I’m sure there are many, many more to come. Different ideas will work for different books and authors, so a good place to start is to ask yourself what your goals are. Are you trying to go viral? Trying to increase the number of reviews? Are you trying to make deeper, lasting connections and perhaps find your “True Fans” (as Kevin Kelley calls them)? Although there are no guarantees, whatever your priorities, there are sure to be some techniques that will help you on the path to reach your goals. So start trying… and please, share your experiences here in the comments or on the wiki so we can all learn as we go.

Photo credit: Hanging Books by TimTom.ch found via Creative Commons search
posted by Greg at 10:36 pm  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Facebook adds new privacy controls, “friends-of-friends” features, chat

Facebook logoRobert McMillan reports in PC World:

Facebook plans to roll out new privacy features on Wednesday that will give users more control over who sees the data stored on their profile pages.

The new privacy controls will allow users to choose which of their friends can see information such as their photo albums, mobile phone number or e-mail address. Facebook users will also be able to share information about themselves with a wider group of people, thanks to a new “friends-of-friends” feature that is also expected to be available on Wednesday.

The Facebook privacy page has more information, including that you can now use “friend lists” to control  who gets to see what — a pain to set up and keep up-to-date, but potentially useful

Facebook’s Beacon fiasco from last fall provides a backdrop:


posted by Jon at 9:05 pm  

Friday, February 29, 2008

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008: call for proposals is up!

CFP banner

From the CFP2008 web page:

This election year will be the first to address US technology policy in the information age as part of our national debate. Candidates have put forth positions about technology policy and have recognized that it has its own set of economic, political, and social concerns. In the areas of privacy, intellectual property, cybersecurity, telecommunications, and freedom of speech, an increasing number of issues once confined to experts now penetrate public conversation. Our decisions about technology policy are being made at a time when the architectures of our information and communication technologies are still being built. Debate about these issues needs to be better-informed in order for us to make policy choices in the public interest.

This year, the 18th annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference will focus on what constitutes technology policy. CFP: Technology Policy ’08 is an opportunity to help shape public debate on those issues being made into laws and regulations and those technological infrastructures being developed. The direction of our technology policy impacts the choices we make about our national defense, our civil liberties during wartime, the future of American education, our national healthcare systems, and many other realms of policy discussed more prominently on the election trail. Policies ranging from data mining and wiretapping, to file-sharing and open access, and e-voting to electronic medical records will be addressed by expert panels of technologists, policymakers, business leaders, and advocates.


posted by Jon at 9:45 am  

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bill Gates moves from Facebook to LinkedIn

Brad Stone has the story in the New York Times:

Earlier this month, the Microsoft co-founder reportedly deleted his Facebook page after receiving thousands of friend requests and becoming unnerved by some strange fan groups on the site.

Now Mr. Gates, who apparently has a little bit of free time on his hands these days as he transitions out of his day-to-day role at Microsoft, has popped up on the social network Linkedin. Mr. Gates has a paltry three connections on the professional networking service now, but on Thursday he is announcing his presence by posing a question to the LinkedIn community: “How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?”

Mr. Gates’ appearance presents something of a marketing opportunity for the Mountain View, Calif., social network.

No, ya think?  Microsoft very sensibly bought a bunch of ads on LinkedIn timed for Gates’ debut, but of course the much larger value for LinkedIn is supporting their message of a site for successful professionals.  If Gates finds time even sporadically to participate in discussions, what a huge pull that will be (a potential chance to interact with Bill Gates!); even if not, it’s still huge for LinkedIn that he’s hanging out there.

And it’s certainly very Bill-like to start out with an excellent question, one relevant both to Microsoft and the Gates Foundation — and a lot of other people on LinkedIn as well.  Still, it’s a little strange to me: wouldn’t it make more sense to ask the same question on Facebook or MySpace, where — unlike LinkedIn — there are actually a lot of real live young people?

posted by Jon at 8:12 am  

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to respond when Facebook censors your political speech: Part 1

Cross-posted on the Wired How-To Wiki.

Several now-deleted threads on public Facebook discussion groups, including Is anybody else getting spam warnings? and Everytime I post something here I get a “WARNING” from facebook.com discuss how Facebook’s automated filters mistake political speech for spam. When you trigger these automated filters, the system starts issuing repeated warning messages when you send messages, post on discussion boards, or write on walls:

Facebook warning: your account could be disabled

It’s really intimidating when this happens — as I found out first hand, especially once I started warnings continuously, even for checking my messages. And labor activists Derek and MiniMSFT, Hillary Clinton supporter Joanna, and Barack Obama supporters AJ and “deleted” (the now-anonymous deleted poster from one of the above threads), along with many others (1, 2, 3) have discovered that it’s not an idle threat.  Accounts are sometimes disabled, often with very little notice.

Facebook’s ‘Warning – Blocked from Using Feature’ page isn’t a lot of help. Basically, it

  • establishes the power vectors: “Facebook has determined that you were using a feature at a rate that is likely to be abusive”
  • lets you know you are in a Kafkaesque universe: “Unfortunately, Facebook cannot provide any specifics on the rate limits that we enforce. “
  • asserts omniscience: “Please know, however, that the speed at which you are acting and the sheer number of actions you have made are both taken into account”
  • reminds you that have no rights: “The duration of the block varies depending on the nature of the offense, ranging from a few hours to a few days…. Facebook will not lift this block for you until the entire penalty time has elapsed”)
  • and takes the opportunity to advertise:: “As a recommended alternative, we suggest you check out the Facebook Application Directory”.

Hopefully these threads-in-progress will be somewhat more useful.

In practice, things aren’t anywhere near as grim as Facebook paints them. When you trigger a warning, there are some simple steps to that usually keep things from getting worse, and protect you in case they do. And even in the worst case, most of the people who have had their accounts disabled have had them reinstated. Read on for more about Facebook’s automated filters; and see part 2 for What to do when you start getting warnings and What to do if your account gets deactivated.


posted by Jon at 11:33 am  

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to respond when Facebook censors your political speech: Part 2, what to do

Continued from part 1, which gave a bunch of examples and described Facebook’s automated filters. This post has two main sections: What to do when you start getting warnings and What to do if your account gets deactivated.

Cross-posted on the Wired How-To Wiki.


posted by Jon at 11:32 am  

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A “Creative Commons” letter to The Economist’s editor?

We’re considering sending a letter to the Economist’s editor.  Here’s a draft:


In your recent debate on social networking technologies in education, the Moderator described the comments as “so good they should be bound and published”. We heartily concur that they should be published — and we ask that you unbind them and the speakers’ statements with a Creative Commons attribution (“by”) license.

Deborah Pierce, Jon Pincus (and potentially others)

Creative Commons License

Thoughts? Questions, suggestions, references, other perspectives?

Please discuss!

posted by Jon at 7:05 pm  
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