What can Diaspora* learn from Google+?

At last year’s Blue Hat conference, I gave a short talk on What Diaspora* can learn from Microsoft.   Now, I’d like to do the same kind of analysis with Google+.

Ten weeks into the G+ experiment, what are the key learnings for a privacy-friendly distributed social network.  Here’s a few early thoughts.

  • Diaspora’s on the right track.  Google+’s “circle” concept and page layout look like they’re based on Diaspora’s work — and imitation is the sincerest form of flatter.
  • Diaspora’s current functionally + longer posts + easy link sharing + video = enough to get people excited
  • The estimated 40% of people online who prefer “screen names” or pseudonyms are a really good target audience right now.   Geek Feminism’s excellent list of Who Is Harmed By a “Real Names” policy could be the basis of a great go-to-market plan for Diaspora
  • Gender is a text field, but corporations run by cis guys still don’t see it that way

Your thoughts welcome, either about these ideas or new ones!
jon

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Anxious Masculinity Under Threat: Google+ and Diversity, part 6

Google+ in rainbow colorsGoogle+’s naming policy isn’t failing because it’s poorly implemented, or because Google’s enforcement team is stupid. It’s failing because what they’re trying to do is (1) impossible, and (2) antisocial.

— Bob Blakley, Google+ Can Be a Social Network Or The Name Police — Not Both, Gartner Blog Network

I wonder what folks at Google thought of Chairman Eric Schmidt’s description of Google+ as an “identity service” which requires people real names? So friendly! So out of sync with what they’ve been telling the media! So … creepy!

It’s hard to see this going over well in the rest of the world, where everybody is sooo eager to share their personal information with a US company so that it’s subject to the PATRIOT Act. And here in the US, Gartner is only the latest to point out how destructive this is for Google+.

Despite its imperfections Google+ was on track for being a grand slam, taking a big chunk of audience from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and yes even Quora.* And now? The joy of the brilliantly-executed launch has dissipated. Passionate early supporters are now so anti-Google that they’re switching to Duck Duck Go and even Bing.

“Data-driven”?

“Operational excellence”?

How embarrassing.

Anxious masculinity under threat

Basically, any situation in which a group of less privileged people makes critiques or observations of the dominant group in a way that threatens to upset the dominance of that group, to change the established order somehow, or to at least make the established order seem less virtuous, normal, and inevitable, is a situation in which the tone argument gets pulled out.

Sheila Marie on “the tone argument”

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The double bind of oppression: Google+ and Diversity, part 5

Google+ in rainbow colors

Ever since it launched, I’ve spent most of my online time on Google+, and so far am very impressed from both the software engineering and business strategy perspectives. I think it’s on track to be a big success, so expect me to be talking about it a lot.

— me, in A work in progress, July 16

Google+’s first few weeks were incredibly exciting. It was social network magic, an updated version of my best experiences at places like Usenet, ezboard, tribe and free-association.  My stream was filled with visually gorgeous photos and art, great discussions, and interesting new people.  It’s got incredible potential from an activism perspective.*  Professionally, while it discombobulated the plans for my nascent startup qweries, it also presents huge opportunities.  Exciting!!!

And then the nymwars started.

Privileged much?

“I am a pseudonymous user in many, many [online] services. I appreciate the ability to go incognito and anonymous at times”

— Google VP Bradley “Bro” Horowitz**, quoted in Juan Carlos Perez’ Google Feels the Pain of Users Who Can’t Get on Google+, PC World

Bro’s boss, Vivek “Vicki” Gundotra, doesn’t go by his real name on Google+, so presumably also appreciates the value of pseudonymity.   But you wouldn’t guess it from their actions.

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Prisms, Kool-Aid, and an Opportunity (a response to Vivek Wadhwa on Quora)

a red balloon saying Quora and a pencil about to pop it

Silicon Valley is again drinking its own Kool-Aid; it is looking at the world through its own prism.

— Vivek Wadhwa on TechCrunch

Quora has that certain magic that only one or two startups a year have. When it first launched it seemed kinda dumb, a slightly better version of q&a sites from before, that all flailed into spam. But it became exceptionally clear very shortly that it wasn’t like those other sites. that the product, combined with the launch strategy of concentrating on a certain group of people (which is how facebook launched as well) made for a very nice product. Now the question is can they turn the corner. I think they will.

TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington, in a comment

Oooh, controversy!

In Life imitates art imitates life … I’ve been talking why I come to the same conclusion as Vivek, so I was looking forward to seeing what he had to say on.  And there’s some very good stuff, including an excellent point I hadn’t seen elsewhere, talking the important of topic-specific and community-oriented Q&A sites:

This is where people with common interests will gather and exchange ideas.  For example, for people seeking legal advice, there is LawPivot, and for businesses looking for experts, there is Focus.   For techies, there are sites like StackOverflow, Slashdot, Hacker News; for children, there is Togetherville; for business students, there is PoetsandQuants; for entrepreneurs in India, there is StartupQnA; for Indian accountants, there is CAClubIndia; and China has its own groups, and so do many other countries.

Indeed! So I added another bullet to my answer on How would Quora be different if it prioritized diversity.

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Calls to Boycott Amazon over Wikileaks: #amazonfail 2.0?

Boycott Amazon for Dumping Wikileaks (screenshot of Facebook page via Kurier.at)Heading into the busiest shopping time of the year, Amazon is suddenly facing threats of a boycott over censoring Wikileaks.   Seems like a good time to dust off the #amazonfail hashtag.

It started last week, after a hacker took one of Wikileaks’ sites down with a relatively weak attack.  Wikileaks moved their online base to Amazon, which from a technology perspective makes a lot of sense: their services are reliable and very scalable.  So it was all good.  Briefly.

Yesterday, after a public request from Senator Lieberman (and rumors of pressure from DHS), Amazon shut Wikileaks’ sites down for “unspecified violations” of their terms of use.  I think EFF’s Kevin Bankston speaks for a lot of us when he describes it as “disappointing”.

Unsurprisingly, there are calls for a boycott.  From Austria, Kurier has a great screenshot in Wut weil Amazon Wikileaks fallen ließSeattle Weekly has a good roundup including links to the Facebook page and the #amazonfail hashtag.

Hey wait a second.

Where have I heard that before?

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Starting the day out …

Morning MistAm I the only person out there who takes a step back every few months to observe how I’m starting my online and day decide what kind of changes I want to make?

If you haven’t ever done this, it can be very illuminating.  Back in 2008, for example, when I was doing a lot of political activism, I looked where I was getting my news, and quickly discovered substantially more interesting and diverse perspectives.   More recently I’ve been focusing on writing Tales from the Net, and also laying the groundwork for a new startup and/or consulting gigs, so have been thinking a lot about how to adapt.

So here’s how I’m currently starting my online days. The order varies, and sometimes I leave some of these out, but it gives the basic idea.  I’d love to hear what others think about this — or what you do. Continue Reading »

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New strategies for fighting FISA and the PATRIOT Act

The notes from the “birds-of-a-feather” session I led at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy are written up on the CFP Wiki. Alas, we didn’t get the online aspects to work; still, we had a dozen people there in person, including Get FISA Right members Thomas Nephew and Chip Pitts. It was a great discussion. The opportunities we identified include

  • building a broad, diverse coalition
  • focusing on cost, dignity, and human rights issues as well as privacy and the constitution
  • using anti-corporate activism against the companies supplying equipment and profiting from surveillance
  • involving the technical community and domain experts

and a lot more. We also discussed some of the tactical issues about the upcoming PATRIOT Act vote: the need for an accurate vote count; a pressure campaign on key Congresspeople like Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Harry Reid; and the importance of powerful visual images.

Check it out!

jon

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Creating the future at #cfp09: showtime for privacy and civil liberties activsm!

CFP logo

“Fight for me!”
— a privacy-loving Facebook friend, wishing me luck at the conference

Here’s our opportunity to realize the promise of the Net that was so present in 1990s when CFP started.
— Deborah Pierce on the CFP blog

The program for this year’s Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference is outstanding even by CFP’s high standards.  The mix of technology, legal, policy, and activism perspectives is particularly strong this year, and with the new administration and Washington DC location there’s significant involvement by government employees for the first time since the 1990s.  As well as CFP regulars like Jennifer Grannick, Jim Harper, Ed Felten, Nicky Ozer, Alessandro Acquisti, Stewart Baker, and Lillie Coney, speakers incude first-timers like Marcy Wheeler, Dori Maynard, Paul Ekman, Shireen Mitchell, Rebecca Mackinnon, Nancy Scola, and Ari Melber.  Don’t take my word for it — check out the program and prepare to be impressed.

Best of all, with streaming video, the #cfp09 Twitter backchannel ,* live-blogging, and a community wiki, the conference will be more accessible onine than every before.    Kudos to Katy Nelson of the ACLU and Robert Guerra of Freedom House for taking the lead with the video streaming, and to all the volunteers of the online visibility team for all the great work on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook.  The online schedule has details, we’ll do our best to keep the web site updated regularly, and the Twitter feed will be best way to keep up what’s going on.

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My reply to Clay Shirky on #amazonfail

amazon.fail ... and you're done

Clay’s post The failure of #amazonfail admits that over the weekend, he jumped to conclusions,  “believed things that weren’t true” about Amazon and was “intoxicated” by the hashtag.  He now thinks he was wrong.  Most of the post is written in the first person plural, assuming everybody else reacted as he did.  He concludes that “we” should apologize to Amazon.  Here’s my reply, originally posted as a comment.

Update: aemeliaclare says it far better than me on Barely and Widely, as does Mike Edwards. Many of the commenters in Clay’s thread have good things to say as well.  On Twitter, by contrast, the backlash is out in force, with many positive responses to “the great Shirky”.

Update on April 16: Janet D. Stemwedel’s Morality, outrage, and #amazonfail: a reply to Clay Shirky on Adventures in Ethics and Science, and Andrew Sempere’s Why Shirky Missed the Point on A repository of ten thousand indignities and the harbinger of God knew what are two more examples of “saying it better than me”.  Nadia Cooke’s On the resolution of #amazonfail on The Ink Spectrum and Landon Bryce’s It’s Still On: The real failure of Amazonfail, Dubai, and Internet Outrage on Bookkake aren’t phrased as replies to Shirky, but make some very complementary points.

By contrast, Meg Pickard’s Spreading like wildfire: Twitter, Amazon and the social media mob focuses on what she sees as “ugly, prejudiced, underinformed, sneery, rude, kneejerk activity” on Twitter and sees it as “Destructive. Damaging. Virulent. Unapologetic. Unrelenting.”  Sigh.

My replies to Clay and Meg below the fold.

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“Dailyish updates” (draft post for The Seminal)

Draft.  Work in progress — feedback welcome!

The revised version will (hopefully) be posted on The Seminal

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Get FISA Right on Ideas for Change: only 72 hours left, five ways to help

Voting in change.org’s Ideas for Change in America competition closes Thursday at 2 p.m. Pacific time. Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties has just fallen to #8, and a couple of the ideas close behind us like Pass the DREAM Act – Support Higher Education for All Students have been climbing rapidly.

Now would be a very good time to start increasing our momentum.

So let’s supplement our email and blogosphere outreach with attention to Facebook.  I’m pretty sure at least half the Get FISA Right members have Facebook accounts, and while there are a lot of challenges to doing Facebook activism, it’s a great platform for person-to-person contact.*

As you get a few moments of time over the next few days, here’s how you can help.

  1. vote for the idea if you haven’t already
  2. double-check that your vote has counted:  the blue “vote” button at the top of the change.org page should turn into a brown “voted” button.
  3. email your friends and family
  4. help with the blogger outreach
  5. get involved on Facebook

Thanks much!

jon

PS: our current endorsement list is here, and later today we’re going to start voting on whether or not to endorse Bob Fertik’s special prosecutor idea.  stay tuned!

* It would be great to do more on MySpace and my.barackobama.com as well; ideas and volunteers welcome!

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Apologies to DREAM Act advocates everywhere …

For the last six weeks of change.org’s Ideas for Change competition, I’ve been consistently impressed by the advocates for Pass the DREAM Act – Support Higher Education for All Students.

The network of activists promoting the idea are giving the rest of us lessons in how to do it effectively.*  And they and their supporters seem to really get the strategic importance of a potential partnership with change.org, MySpace, and a raft of excellent non-profits.

With the complex political situation around the DREAM Act, social network activism could be a wild card that helps tip the balance and gets Congress to prioritize the DREAM Act — and puts them over 60 votes in the Senate.  Of all of the ideas in the competition, it seems to me it’s got one of the best chances of having an impact.  I voted for it (please consider doing the same) and have been trying to help promote it as well as others.

So when I was talking when I was talking with David Herbert of the National Journal on Monday, as well as discussing my idea, I brought the DREAM Act as an example.  It worked very effectively from the promotional side (David’s article Move over, change.gov discussed and linked to their idea as well as mine) but I certainly wish I had said things differently:

Web strategist Jon Pincus, whose idea “Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties” is currently ranked No. 2, argued that combining grassroots politics with the power of a social networking site like MySpace could prove a potent combination, even for issues that have already been debated ad nauseam.

The online vote could also help push legislation with some congressional support — like the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented high school graduates a path to citizenship — over the finish line. The only obstacle to the DREAM Act, Pincus said, is that it lacks vocal advocates.

“Who’s going to prioritize undocumented minors?” he said. “Nobody.”

Clunk.

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