Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “relationships”

Social networking and social media

Over the last 30 years or so we’ve seen a tremendous increase in electronic communication by computer networking. Thirty years ago I mainly communicated with distant friends and family by snail mail. Now I mainly use email, if I have their email address. And there are social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can find friends and family even if you’ve lost touch with them.

But though the internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, make communication easier, the owners of the sites seem to go to great lengths to place obstacles in the way, so that the potential of the internet for communication is never fully realised. One of the most notorious examples was when Facebook, without telling its users, changed every user’s email address in its directory to a Facebook address, and hid mail sent to that address in a place where no one could find it.

I’d like to make some suggestions for improving the utility of social networking to the users. They probably won’t be tried, because there is a huge clash of interests, so Facebook is perpetually fighting its users in order to manipulate them and sell them, offering them the minimum of what they want in order to keep stringing them along.

Other social networking sites have been less successful at this. They start offering something that people find useful, and gain a lot of users. They then sell the site to a big company that announces that they are going to improve the site, and remove the very thing that attracted users in the first place. Yahoo! was notorious for buying up such sites and killing them — for example Geocities, BlogLog and WebRing.

When BlogLog went, there was another similar site called BlogCatalog, but they tried making “improvements” that crippled the main thing that attracted users.

Yet another was Technorati, which was a very useful tool for finding blog posts on similar subjects by means of tags. It also showed a list of trending topics in blog posts, some of which I did not understand at all, but curiosity made me investigate some of them, and so I leant something about popular culture, and the meaning of words like Beyonce, Pokemon and Paris Hilton (no, not the hotel, the daughter of its owner). And one of the things that trended was Twitter. I didn’t see much point in Twitter at first, but when Technorati abandoned its main function, Twitter became a less satisfactory substitute.

friendsWhenever I link to a new blog from one of my WordPress blogs, there is a kind of social networking questionnaire. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, and I’ve filled in the information in the hope that someone will find a use for it one day. It’s called XFN, or the XHTML friends network, and you can read more about it here.

The rationale behind XFN’s categories of relationship is given here. While I don’t agree with all their decisions and categories, I think that it is a pretty good starting point, and that social networking sites like Facebook would be immensely improved if they instituted something like that.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously "met". But otherwise, from left to right -- (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously “met”. But otherwise, from left to right — (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

The only thing I would add for a site like Facebook would be the time dimension — the “met” category can mean last week or 40 years ago. I find Facebook most useful for contacting old friends and far-away friends.

But the use of categories like the XFN ones could enable Facebook to improve their algorithms of what they show to users. At the moment Facebook shows me lots of stuff from some people in the “contact” category, people I have never met.

Allowing users to categorise posts would also help. Some categories might be family news, general news, professional news, humour, trivia, etc. And possibly an importance rating — I don’t want to learn of a death in the family after the funeral has taken place (as happened in a couple of cases recently), while a new bird seen in the garden might be of less importance.

Does anyone else think any of this would be useful if implemented by Facebook or some other social networking sites?


A few days ago I read something somewhere on the web that mentioned “complementarianism”. It was the first time I’d seen it called an -ism, and that seemed strange to me.

Someone else pointed me to this web site 24 Useful Words From Laádan, a Language Invented to Express a Woman’s Point of View | Mental Floss:

In 1981, author Suzette Haden Elgin was working on a speech when she began to wonder why feminist science fiction always portrayed either matriarchy, where women were superior to men, or androgyny, where women were equal to men. What about another alternative, where women were simply different from men? Perhaps it was difficult to imagine such a possibility, she thought, because we lacked the language to express it.

And that view, that women are simply different from men, seems to me best described asd the “complementarian” view, that male and female are not identical, not interchangeable, but that each is incomplete without the other. I wouldn’t regard it as an ideology (which is why I find the -“ism” puzzling) but just as a way of seeing things.

And the words on the linked web site seem to me that they could be quite useful, like the Zulu words for different colours of cows.

But it seems to me that “complementarianism” is regarded by many as a thoroughly bad thing.

Matriarchy, androgyny or patriarchy are where it’s at, folks.

What is Klout, and how well does it work?

A few days ago I wrote on my other blog about some online software tools, among which was Klout, which I’ve been trying out Some online software tools | Khanya.

Klout is a website that purports to tell you how much influence you have in social networks, and who you are most in contact with. First impressions were difficult to gauge, because I discovered that Klout takes a bit of time to get up to speed. It starts off by adding your Twitter followers (or is it followees) as “friends” or “influencers”, and then after a day or two goes on to Facebook, Google+ and other networks. So you probably need to use it for a week or so to see how it actually works.

Even after a week, however, it becomes apparent that it is heavily weighted towards Twitter. If you want to list your “friends” it loads the people you follow on Twitter, rather than your Facebook friends, for example, and it appears to display them in random order. Taking one of my blogging friends, Miss Eagle, and doing a comparison, I can learn what Klout thinks are our spheres of influence:

Sorry if that’s a bit hard to read: you can blame the new and downgraded Blogger interface, which does not appear to let you adjust the size of such pictures before posting them. What it says is that I do 93% of my stuff on Facebook, while Miss Eagle does 100% of her stuff on Twitter. And it also says “You use Facebook as the primary way to spread your influence. Twitter is Miss Eagle’s primary network of influence.”

How accurate it is, I have no idea.

One of the things I remarked on in my original post was the topics in which Klout appeared to think I was influential: Some online software tools | Khanya:

Among the rather strange things Klout tells me is that I am influential in Singapore (first and last time I was there was back in 1985) and that I’m more influential in “Celebrities” than in “Christianity” — if you look at the tag cloud in the right side bar you’ll see that “Christianity” is quite big, and “celebrities”, if it appears at all, is very small.

I’ve since discovered that this can be altered in various ways. You can remove topics that don’t really interest you. You are also given points, and you can use these to add new topics to either your own page, or to those of your friends and influencers. For example, I used five points to add “Socialism” to the topics on which another blogging friend, Chris Hall, had influenced me. Klout had apparently not detected it, and once I added it, it moved to the top of his influential topics.

But the “topics” of influence also seem arbitrary, and quite bizarre, and this, I think, is one of the biggest weaknesses of Klout. I wanted to add “Missiology”, which is my academic speciality, as well as that of a lot of other people in my network, but Klout would not let me. It was not in the “topic dictionary” The nearest I could find was “Theology”, which is fine as a generic topic, but I also saw “The California Pacific School of Theology (Japan)”, and a couple of other similar entries. That is a really silly topic — if you are going to add one theology school, you should add them all, but surely a “topic” is for a discipline, not a single institution. If a single school can have a topic all to itself, then surely every single theology school in the whole world should have its own topic? But it makes more sense to have a discipline as a topic, and not to include only a couple of the institutions where that discipline is taught. Yet a whole discipline, Missiology (aka Mission Studies), which is found in hundreds of schools around the world, has no topic at all.

I wrote to Klout about this, and their reply awas not reassuring. I also looked to add “Church History” as a topic. Nothing doing. They offered “Church”, “Baptist Church” and “Winston Churchill”.

“Baptist Church”? What about other denominations? Try “Anglican Church”? No, nothing doing. You can have “The Riverina Anglican College (University)” as a topic, but not the “Anglican Church” or “Anglican Communion”.

And it gets worse. Not only can’t you have Church History, you can’t have History. You can have Black History Month, but you can’t have History.

Now Missiology may be a fairly obscure academic discipline, but History is big. But sorry, historians have no Klout, not even if they are black historians. They only haveKlout if they are Black History Monthians.

I would thus say that Klout’s topic dictionary is well and truly screwed up. It is badly thought-out, badly designed and badly implemented. It has lots of very narrow sub-sub-topics, but in many cases the main topics that they should be under are missing.

In the light of that, news stories like this are very scary indeed: What Your Klout Score Really Means | Epicenter |

Last spring Sam Fiorella was recruited for a VP position at a large Toronto marketing agency. With 15 years of experience consulting for major brands like AOL, Ford, and Kraft, Fiorella felt confident in his qualifications. But midway through the interview, he was caught off guard when his interviewer asked him for his Klout score. Fiorella hesitated awkwardly before confessing that he had no idea what a Klout score was.
The interviewer pulled up the web page for—a service that purports to measure users’ online influence on a scale from 1 to 100—and angled the monitor so that Fiorella could see the humbling result for himself: His score was 34. “He cut the interview short pretty soon after that,” Fiorella says. Later he learned that he’d been eliminated as a candidate specifically because his Klout score was too low. “They hired a guy whose score was 67.”

Consider the case that I mentioned above — Chris Hall. Klout had not picked up “Socialism” as one of his topics of interest, yet when I added it, it turned out that he was more influential in that than in any of the topics that Klout did pick up. And perhaps Klout had done something similar with Sam Fiorella in the story above, but because he did not know about Klout, there was nothing he could do about it.

If these things are flawed, there’s no way of telling how Klout calculates influence even on the flawed and inadequate data it uses — what if its algorithms are as flawed as its data?

Klout is an interesting concept, and it is quite fun to compare yourself with your friends and to see which topics you are interested or influential in. But I’m not sure how seriously it can be taken when its data are so obviously flawed.

You can do something to improve it, though. You can check your friends, and see if their topics reflect those that you discuss with them most frequently. You can help to make their scores more accurate — provided, of course, that their areas of expertise have made it into Klout’s topic database in the first place.

Oh yes, and if you’re feeling kindly disposed towards me, please retweet a few of my tweets. It’s not that I’m looking for a job in marketing or anything, but you never know when you’re going to need it.

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