I now have a Diaspora account, so I figure it’s time to revisit my thoughts about it. Last time I mentioned Diaspora, it was just a kick starter project. A sketch of an idea, but nothing else. Now there’s something to actually look at an interact with.
Diaspora isn’t fun. While it may be a work in progress, it has squandered a lot of momentum, and certain things are just the kind of mistakes you’d expect from four (now three) undergrads with no experience with Internet scale. First, it is incredibly hard to find anyone. Search is slow, and it only return less than 10 hits, with no ability to move beyond the first page of results. If you want to invite your friends, you can either use Facebook, or manually upload your address book one email address at a time. That’s just horrible. It advertises integration with other services (namely Twitter and Facebook) but with the exception of Facebook, it doesn’t access the address book.
Second, while you can follow tags, almost every tag is content free. Why? The first post every account is encouraged to send is, “Hey! I’m #newhere and am interested in #foo, #bar, and #baz!” And so every tag is filled with these #newhere posts. While a welcome-a-total-stranger post may have sounded like a good idea when you have low tens of users, it is obvious this can’t scale, especially when you’re trying to attract many new users.
Third, the stream only supports two types of content: text and pictures. Want to share a link? You can’t. I don’t know quite what to say about that. It’s just weird.
Since I have literally two connections on Diaspora it’s very hard to get anything out of it. Especially since the community features (i.e. tag following) is broken, and quite honesty even when you scroll through 20 #newhere posts just to find one piece of actual content, the content is rather crappy. I don’t blame Diaspora for that though. I blame the Internet.
Writing about traveling bookcases and other dead media storage solutions got me thinking about other furniture that always seems pregnant with possibilities, yet just isn’t practical anymore: secretary desks, and travel desks.
I love all the cubby holes in the secretary desks. Holes full of letters, bills, and checks. Drawers containing pens, ink wells, and seals. All of it lockable. Its very structure conveys, “Important stuff happens here.” Need to do serious work on the go? Get a travel desk, the attache case’s awkward cousin.
While tasks like answering correspondence and paying bills have remained, the form they have taken has changed. No longer are we physically shuffling atoms around, but rather simply information. Email, online banking, and all the rest has replaced paper. Similarly, we no longer need travel desks, as our laptop contains everything that the desk, could and much more. Add a network connection, and almost nothing is out of reach. It seems increasing clear that physical media is dying. Newspaper circulation is down. CD sales have fallen. DVD and bluray are now seen as a transition technology as streaming is becoming increasingly widespread. (Thus Netflix’s price hike.) With the advent of eReaders and tablet computers, even the books and magazines seems in danger.
We’re losing the need to deal with physical items, and as a side effect, it seems like we’re losing an ability to signal our tastes; which is ironic, given how personalization and sharing has taken over the web. When visiting someone’s home, we would occupy ourselves by perusing each other’s bookshelves. The books, CDs, and DVDs were essentially the tag clouds of the physical world. They weren’t there just for storage, but also to signal our personality. Our collections not only express how we see ourselves, but also how we want others to see us.
From Carmen Hermosillo’s (aka humdog) 1994 essay Pandora’s Vox
i have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified myself. commodification means that you turn something into a product which has a money-value. in the nineteenth century, commodities were made in factories, which karl marx called “the means of production.” capitalists were people who owned the means of production, and the commodities were made by workers who were mostly exploited. i created my interior thoughts as a means of production for the corporation that owned the board i was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment. that means that i sold my soul like a tennis shoe and i derived no profit from the sale of my soul. people who post frequently on boards appear to know that they are factory equipment and tennis shoes, and sometimes trade sends and email about how their contributions are not appreciated by management.
Seventeen years later, it’s still the same, but in one sense it’s worse. Before it was just selling ads based on traffic. Now we’re processing the text of your posts for sentiment. Processing your social connections to determine whether your or one of your friends are more of an “influencer.” We’re trying to peer into meaning. Typically the concerns about text-mining / social-network-analysis / big-data revolve around privacy, which I believe mostly clouds the issue.
Paul Butler’s Facebook friend visualization has been going around the intertubes recently. He says:
Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.
While it is true that’s what the arcs represent “friends”, but the image is informed by the geographic coordinates of the planet. What I find interesting isn’t what his visualization shows, but what it doesn’t show.
Here’s what I found.
Bashkim Isai has hooked up a plant so that it gets its nourishment from interacting a social networks. Named Meet Eater, the plant receives a dose of water every time someone performs a social gesture about it on Facebook. After 91 days, it currently has 8140 fans.
Do we have something to replace Internet vending machines? No. Nothing will replace Internet vending machines.
Wow, just last week I singled out Microsoft Kin as an interesting idea. Yesterday, The Kin died.
Wow. I can really nailed that one. Apparently, the reviews were rather poor for it, in all fairness, I wasn’t thinking much about the phone, just the UI. The visualization of the lifestream was what was interesting, and there’s no reason why this idea can’t be applied to some other product.
Update: Wed Jul 7 15:13:28 PDT 2010
Microsoft sold 503. Ouch. Well I didn’t buy one.
Update: Fri Jul 9 01:28:50 PDT 2010
Thoughts from the guy who killed the Kin.
Schuresko one time mentioned using shared artifacts for collaboration and social network interaction. Instead of simply just clicking buttons in lists, users would manipulate representations of the activities/messages more like how one drags icons around on a desktop. He mentioned OLPC’s Sugar interface, and how other OLPC users show up as icons on the home screen, complete with icons indicating what activity they are currently engaged in. Since many of the OLPC applications are collaborative, clicking on a user’s icon will crate a shared session with him/her. Also, when users are collaborating, their icons appear huddled around the same activity icon.
I hadn’t seen anything like that interface before, especially deployed outside of a lab. I thought about that recently when trying to simply share a folder on my computer with Ming’s was an exercise in frustration. (Either we couldn’t log in to each other’s machines, or the network link would collapse immediately after beginning the transfer.)
Later, I saw an ad for Microsoft’s Kin phone. It interface (shown above, you have to click around on their link unfriendly site to find the video yourself) seems pretty novel. The user is initially presented with a graphical life stream. From this, they can drag items down to the area immediately below the stream (the “Kin Spot”) to share them with people in their address book. Again, destinations are selected from a graphical stream and dragged to the spot. Tapping the spot allows the final message is edited and then sent.
It would be interesting to create an interface like this for Diaspora, if that ever gets off the ground.