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Re: Priority of Constituencies proposal

From: Kevin Marks <kevinmarks@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 2015 10:56:25 -0700
Message-ID: <CAD6ztspC6-F2P_nBNmKVqVtM+MkjE6AYupDVcE8ObbgAdkw2EA@mail.gmail.com>
To: Andreas Kuckartz <a.kuckartz@ping.de>
Cc: "public-socialweb@w3.org" <public-socialweb@w3.org>
I wrote about the theory behind this work when we were starting Activity


How Twitter works in theory

It is said that an economist is someone who sees something that works in
practice and wonders whether it works in theory. Twitter clearly works in
practice - and if you want practical advice, watch Laura Fitton's
 Tech talk at Google <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRgS-Kmtr20>, or read
her Twitter for Dummies
I've learned a lot from talking to her and others about this phenomenon,
and I wanted to write about some theories that help me understand it.

At it heart Twitter is a flow
it doesn't present an unread count of messages, just a list of recent ones,
so you don't have email's inbox problem - the implicit pressure to turn
bold things plain and get that unread number down. Instead, you can dip in
and out of it, when you have time, and what you see is notes from people
you care about.

Indeed, what you see are the faces
<http://epeus.blogspot.com/2009/05/faces-call-trust-code-in-our-brains.html> of
people you know with the notes they wrote next to them. This taps into deep
mental structures that we all have to look for faces and associate the
information we receive with people we decide to trust, through what we feel
about them. This is also why automated tweets not by them are so obtrusive,
as they break the trust. Using friends' faces in ads
even more pernicious, as ads are by definition recommendations from people
we don't trust.

The key to Twitter is that it is phatic - full of social gestures that are
like apes grooming each other. Both Google and Twitter have little boxes
for you to type into, but on Google you're looking for information, and
expecting a machine response, whereas on Twitter you're declaring an
emotion and expecting a human response. This is what leads to
unintentionally ironic newspaper columns bemoaning public banality, because
they miss that while you don't care what random strangers feel about their
lunch, you do if its your friend on holiday in Pompeii. This is something
it shares with Facebook and other social networks, but this brings me to
another key difference, which is asymmetric connections.

Historically, web fora were open to anyone, leading to the tragedy of the
where annoying people
up and spoiled things.

Social network sites changed this by requiring mutual agreement on
friendship, thereby making a natural in-group area where you only saw your
friends' comments. This also created a venue for the phatic behaviour, but
it was rather self-limiting, as you ended up with piles of friend requests
from vaguely unfamiliar people that it feels rude to ignore, creating
another inbox problem.

This is analogous to the pre-web hypertext systems that insisted every link
would be bidirectional, thereby preventing the power-law distributed link
structure that builds a small-world network to connect the web and provides
the basis for Pagerank. Being able to link to something without it having
to give you permission by linking back is what enabled the web to grow.

Making following asymmetric is similarly freeing for social relationships -
it means you can follow authors or film stars without drowning them in
friend requests, and get the same phatic sense of connection
them that you get from friends.

The idea of Following means that the natural view we see on Twitter is
different for each of us, and is of those we have chosen to hear from. In
effect we each have our own view of the web, our own public that we see and
we address.

The subtlety is that the publics
<http://epeus.blogspot.com/2008/04/digital-publics-conversations-and.html> are
semi-overlapping - not everyone we can see will hear us, as they don't
necessarily follow us, and they may not dip into the stream in time to
catch the evanescent ripples in the flow that our remark started. However,
as our view is fo those we choose to follow, our emotional response is set
by that, and we behave more civilly in return.

For those with Habermas's assumption of a single common public sphere
makes no sense - surely everyone should see everything that anyone says as
part of the discussion? In fact this has never made sense, and in the past
elaborate systems have been set up to ensure that only a few can speak, and
only one person can speak at a time, because a speech-like, real-time
discourse has been the foundational assumption.

Too often this worldview has been built into the default assumptions of
communications online; we see it now with privileged speakers
the use ofanonymity
the same tones as 19th century politicians defended hustings in rotten
boroughs instead of secret ballots. Thus the tactics of shouting down
debate in town halls show up as the baiting and trollery that make YouTube
comments a byword for idiocy <http://xkcd.com/202/>; when all hear the
words of one, the conversation often decays.
Mutual media

The alternative model is one that is less familiar, yet is all around us -
the spontaneous order that emerges from people communicating in parallel.
We know this frommarket pricing, from scientific consensuses, and from
human language <http://www.ertnet.demon.co.uk/2kinds.html>, and are
starting to see it harnessed in projects like Wikipedia that present a
dynamic cultural consensus. What shows up in Twitter, in blogs and in the
other ways we are connecting the loosely coupled web into flows is that by
each reading whom we choose to and passing on some of it to others, we are
each others media, we are the synapses in the global brain of the web of
thought and conversation. Although we each only touch a local part of it,
ideas can travel a long way.
Small world networks

This seems counter-intuitive too—we're used to the idea of having an
institution tell us what is news—but that is really a left-over anomaly
from 20th Century mass media
<http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/19990901-00-a.html>. In fact, social
connections are a small-world network, that has the Six Degrees
that it is both locally connected, but can be traversed globally in a small
number of jumps. Although online social networks are often not good models
<http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2005/11/29/attention_netwo.html> of
real world ones, they share this feature, and Twitter amplifies it with
both a low propogation delay and the enforced brevity that makes both
writing and reading rapid.

As we are working to generalise the ideas seen in Twitter and similar sites
through the Activity Streams <http://activitystrea.ms/> work, I find it
helps me to think about these underlying theories.

On Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 10:41 AM, Andreas Kuckartz <a.kuckartz@ping.de>

> James M Snell wrote:
> > As I interpret this proposal, at this point in the process, it seems
> > more about "We don't agree with certain other voices in the WG so
> > rather than working to build real consensus, we'd much rather the
> > people we disagree with had lower 'priority'".
> >
> > In the meantime, I encourage anyone with more productive proposals to
> > submit PRs and issues against the current working drafts. With a
> > little bit of effort, we ought to be able to do a "final" scrub on the
> > existing working drafts and get them ready for Candidate
> > Recommendation by the time we have our face to face in December.
> +1
> Cheers,
> Andreas
Received on Tuesday, 27 October 2015 17:56:57 UTC

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