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Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Discussion and idea swapping and socializing is and should be so much more than just liking something. The like function is going to just create more noise. It’s no where near as useful as a bookmark or hyperlinks.

Alas like so many innovations on the social web it’s just more naive data collection. Digging, checking in, liking, stumbling, retweeting…. Ugh.

Tagging, linking, and commenting at least encourage some creative effort.

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Facebook’s new releases and plans were the talk of the week In the tech industry (by the way, not the only industry that matters!). Probably for good reason. Facebook’s size and growth is very impressive and the service is obviously very useful to millions of people. However I’m not ready to proclaim them the most important tech business or even a fundamental component to the web.

Facebook is a collection of many existing ideas packaged better than anyone else has been able to do it. Even the new LIKE button is basically digg done in a friendly way. And yes it’s useful but not entirely life changing. Will it be as important as the hyperlink? Some ask that… I have no idea how to answer that but without hyperlinks the “like” thing and social web doesn’t work. So by that fact I’m inclined to say no.

Is analyzing the social graph for information a better approach than page rank based web search to help people get to the information they want? Not really, just different. Fb gives us new ways to find things but that doesn’t mean it displaces other methods. Last I checked Email, Im, web search, texting were still growing…

Is facebook as a single sign on service significant enough to be a can’t do without piece of the infrastructure? Not yet. If it were somehow to get into the enterprise and be integrated fundamentally into operating systems, then yes. I’m not sure for security reasons that fb can make that happen.

Forget all the technical discussion about fb, it’s the business model that ultimate limits fb. Its revenue model is dependent on advertising. There’s nothing in the history of advertising based businesses that suggests that fb can escape the limits of that model. Google is by far the most successful advertising based business ever created. Its growth is slowing and probably will top out at 50 billion in revenue. There simply isn’t enough advertising spend in the market to sustain growth passed that. New competitors and options constantly pull at ad budgets and keep the advertising world forever fragmented. (this is a highly simplified explanation but directionally correct).

Google has indicated the truth of this logic by launching into office software, mobile phones, cloud computing and other transactional / sell a good or service to a customer type businesses. Google recognized a long time ago that an ad only business was just not going to move them far into the future. Recently In the tech world apple has shown that their are billions more dollars that are more quickly earned by actually selling stuff to people.

So at some point fb will face a similar situation. Is everything fb is building setting itself up to one day be able to actually sell something to customers or will it forever rent eyeballs, clicks and likes? Fb’s one billion in revenue is awesome for a company so young. It will grow for the next 15 years… That sounds impressive… But it really isn’t that far into the future… And the next major advertising competition is probably already up and running…

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If been asked many times about the size of Facebook’s infrastructure.  Folks love to get a gauge of how much hardware/bandwidth is required to run high trafficked sites.

Here’s a recent report of the set up. Read the details there.  In short, 30,000 or so servers with tons of optimizations to networking, mysql, PHP, web server, and lots and lots of caching.

There’s an interesting point here.  30,000 servers to handle 300 million registers users and their 200 billion pageviews a month.  That puts about 7 million pageviews per server.   Almost every company I have worked with as WAY over built hardware and infrastructure.  I’ve seen people deploy new servers for every 100,000 pageviews per month.   Modern web servers and dbs, with the right set up, can handle far more load than most webmasters and IT folks realize.

One subtle point that’s hard to figure out from this data… the amount of compute/CPU time/power required to parse the metrics for this site.  Beyond serving the site up there’s a considerable amount of business intelligence to work through.  Logging and log parsing, without even the analysis part, has got to be a major effort not accounted for in these infrastructure details.

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This is genius.

Kudos to the editor who thought that one up.

I cannot begin to tell you the insight I gained from this.  Can you believe there are people that sit on Facebook all the time? Can you believe people would rather stare at their computer screen and leer at the human zoo that is social media than interact in the real world?

“Last Friday, I had three clients in my office with Facebook problems,” said Paula Pile, a marriage and family therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It’s turned into a compulsion — a compulsion to dissociate from your real world and go live in the Facebook world

The funny thing is… remember when it was all about MySpace addiction and before that AOL Chatrooms.  I guess you know a company / media thang has jumped the shark when therapists are no longer accepting patients for an addiction with your brand associated with it.

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Check out what I just put out to the world:

Get some perspective

get some perspective with the social bucket list application, need perspective, on facebook.

This is really just a labor of love.  Life’s very short.  I have some 15,000 days left.  I plan to exhaust my bucket list.

Do you?

Perspective: Get some. Give some.

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All these publishers and platforms aren’t implementing FB Connect to help users, it’s to increase traffic.

Techcrunch asserts:

People may have IDs for the various blogging platforms or commenting systems, but most don’t identify with them. It is a necessary inconvenience. They identify with Facebook or their email because that is where they manage their personal and professional lives.

In addition to replicating the comments on your Facebook News feed, the JS-Kit implementation also supports embedding Facebook photos and YouTube videos directly into the comments. It makes commenting much more personal when you know your friends will see it in Facebook. It also has the potential to reduce the amount of comment trolling and general incivility that has taken over many blog comments (we hope).

I disagree with the notion here. Social networking, widgets, ShareThis, Buzz Up and all these single sign ons aren’t about personal identity, better comments, improving connectivity/making it personal or making it easier on the user.

No publisher would bother with FB Connect if it wasn’t going to increase activity.  Plain and simple.  As publisher you want to get into FB user base and you know that user base is active and going to dump this content everywhere.  Sure, eliminating the login is great, but really most these other services aren’t that challenging to a user who really wants to leave a comment.

Yes, it will increase traffic.  Facebook and Social network connectivity is the new SEO.

And just like SEO did for Google, so social connectivity will do for Facebook – FB is now the cornerstone of a whole lot of publishers traffic.

Anyhoo, nothing groundbreaking in the post.  Just wanted to point out something that might not be obvious about this land rush to see who can put Facebook Connect up first.

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Edge.com

Douglas Rushkoff
“Social Networks Are Like the Eye”
A Talk with Nicholas Christakis

I read with great interest – as usual – the Edge article by DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: “Social Networks are like the Eye” – A Talk with Nicholas Christakis.

Certainly no shortage of the point and counterpoint logic on anyone’s part. Rushkoff and Alda both working as part of several social networks themselves show a dismissive stance to marketing but are published in a most pristine record of ideas on the Internet where, despite their claims, they market their approaches. Good stuff for many but wait, what are they saying with all those not-so-grand illusions (‘living systems’ or subsystems of brain numbing metaphor piled on metaphor…) or mentalistic and romantic ideas of a ‘vis viva’ forces to establish value of their agendas over ‘others’ agendas.

YIKES! What’s going on?

Two things come out of all of this:

  1. Social networks are treated as a separate uber-case of behavior apart from other forms of behavior. It reminds me of how in the late 40’s and much of the 50’s the railroads treated themselves as an ‘industry’ rather than part of transportation.
  2. The metaphor is the medium. As such, they are contributing to the slow dilution of the very communication that they are so proud to expound on. Much of the article’s context is spent validating selected metaphors and not explaining how social networks work empirically.

Incased in the strategy being presented it was like I was being induced to look for a communication homunculus but instead was provided a drumming of the numbing anti-parsimonious meme concept of Dawkins. Raise you hand if ‘ideological components’ does wonders here in explaining social networks. Using a metaphor to support an analogy… to support another metaphor is hardly what Edge has built its reputation on.

“It’s the media shell that allows a media virus to spread through the mediaspace undetected, while it’s the memes inside that interpolate into our confused cultural code, forcing their replication.”

Doesn’t this sound a little like ‘vapor’ explanations that resurfaced in the 1850s from Aristotle’s ‘vapors’ theories as what was responsible for behavior? Aristotle and others that followed posited that there were ‘airs,’ just as there were different liquids and different solids that caused behavior. How are vapors that different than memes and metaphors that have nothing to do with people doing stuff?

To interrupt these authors, consider that social networks are based on interaction / access. No one cares about the brand of the camera, phone, or graininess of the content. For social networks to grow there needs to be content to access and the viewer needs to be able to respond. End of story. It defies predetermined categories of demographic gurus. Content gets acted on and in so doing lets the provider know what is of value. Hits and sends to others = important. No action = not important. Move on. Where are the virus – memes – biological systems metaphor required?

The question that begs to be answered is why are these metaphors necessary or used? Do they may provide some communication value leap-froging a more parsimonic or empirical resolution about social network etiology? For Edge it may come down to what was the objective of airing this set of monologues. While interesting, they are diversionary to understanding the subject matter in the title.

The world has more media options and combinations that move a message than ever before. Like reality TV it seems that every TV media exec has the secret and that one more reality show will be better than one less. As if each media exec has blinders on, they don’t get it that the form of media and the content carried live until the predictability and the exposure create habituation. This, along with competition for a viewer’s time, and things changing, variability occurs and gets selected and is the next big (valued) thing. Everyone gets to take credit for the next big thing because no one can show how to do it again. It is as old as game shows, westerns, crime soaps and variety shows.

Mr. Rushkoff asks “What is the cultural immune response related to MySpace or YouTube?” No one knows – which makes the talking heads cranky. But is there any question that there will be another episode change? Of course not. To use the idiom of the article, “if something has value, the code is picked up and carried, converted and re-sent via other shells elsewhere until its value has run its course to the end user.”

As content without a polarity, the media material exists in a vacuum and only becomes viral [and thus of ‘value] if it is attended to on the network… it was not ‘design specificity’ but the lack of specificity in the media channel that gives it value to network members.

Moving on, I was surprised at the vitriolic or at least pejorative tense of some of the assessment.

“Thus “viral marketing” was born. Meanwhile, visionaries interested in the possibilities for organismic awareness offered by mediated interconnectedness were lumped in with the fascists of earlier eras. Anything smacking of “meta-organism” reminded the intelligentsia of Hegel or, worse, Jung. Instead of looking — like scientists — at the incipient reorganization of civilization on a new dimensional level, they cringe like early readers of Le Bon’s The Crowd, incapable of seeing in collective organism anything but the tyranny of the masses.”

The nice thing about Edge.com is that it has an abundance of ‘intelligentsia’ all with identities that with little coxing evolve into priestly pontifications like that above scolding us for questioning the latest epoch of truth. In my experience, ‘scientists’ don’t need to yell. There data is what matters.

One last note on Ruchkoff’s primer on social networks; like artificial intelligence, Boolean logic and internet language code, there is a point where social networks will get absorbed into the fabric of life and the next generation of life without fanfare. We are observing an important yet fleeting data point that has meaning only if the data involved lead to other dynamic social activities. Ultimately none of this will be understood unless a less romantic strategy of study is applied to that behavior.

John H. Bryant

The Woodlands, TX USA

jbryant@CrossroadsAccess.com

4/4/08

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I received the following from a director of ad operations, Jeremy Jones, in response to yesterday’s post on collective behavior and the other day’s post on vertical media.  His remarks focus on the confusion over social networking advertising (both selling and buying).  I include the full remark here and an annotated remark below.

[Social networks/social sites] struggle with how to sell the concept to advertisers.  No one gets it, not even the sn sites themselves.

I had believed that social networking and behavioral targeting was just a fad.  That it will end up just being another tool in the arsenal once somebody actually figures it out.  I think it won’t really take off until someone develops a standard that everyone can follow.  Until then it’s just a mishmash of technologies and ideas that are just tangents of the same idea.  Being in the industry, we hear about every new concept of trying to aggregate behavior and bucketing those behaviors to try and create useful targeting.  It all revolves around collecting site behavior.  Some of the more interesting ones actually involve trying to apply psychological profiles and social classifications based on the user’s browsing behavior.

Is sn or bt about the consumers or the influencers?  Up to this point, anyone trying to use influencers has typically been exposed.  All those attempts at viral are quickly uncovered as manufactured.  It is true what they say that the internet is the world’s greatest laboratory.  The collective intelligence will typically uncover a insincere effort rather quickly.  SEO has generally been regarded as a good thing.  Even though it has been used by every advertiser to increase their influence.  It has ensured that any content worth knowing can be found.  But what about social networking and behavioral targeting?  The impact of social networking is just beginning to be felt.  So much personal data.  Will the collective eventually see this as a good thing or bad?  It’s influence will be far greater than SEO.  Will they approve of having their personal details used for the purposes of a more efficient marketing machine?  Can they do anything about it if they really wanted to?

One of the current problems with behavioral targeting is that no one has developed a method of success reporting.  What is a success metric for a bt campaign?  Advertisers are still using visits and clicks as success metrics.  Widgets is an interesting method.  It requires adoption by users, and once adopted, do they interact with your widget?  Consume it’s content, pass it along to friends?  Do friends adopt it without prompting?  It certainly opens up a whole new area of measurable behaviors that were never available before.  This gets back to the influencer vs the consumer.  How do you target the influencers?  Heck, how do you identify the influencers.  That, I believe is the tricky part.  The influencers are not a stable group.  They are never the same.  They can be an influencer one day, and an consumer the next.  If you could come up with a method for identifying the influencers for any advertiser then you would really have something.

I think this response underscores the general discomfort with media and advertising right now.  We have the technology to deliver interesting experiences and we collect a lot of data.  We simply don’t have a good enough technology/science of behavior that has left the ivory tower and trickled into business intelligence.

We focus too much on the “biological details”(e.g. who are the influencers, where’s the meme/viral agent/contagion, what is the makeup of the content, onbrand strategies) that we’re losing site of the behavior, in particular the social behavior.  We do not need to know much about the influencers to take advtange of influencer behavior (what are the behaviors, what are the schedules of reinforcement, what are the reinforcers), history (normative behavior, rule sets, discriminant stimulus) and the context of the influence (the environment, the websites, the office, the watercooler, the telephone…).

Here’s my direct response to Jeremy:

[Social networks/social sites] struggle with how to sell the concept to advertisers.  No one gets it, not even the sn sites themselves.

“It” needs definition.   The confusion may stem from unclear values and how to measure achievement of that value.  What do advertisers value?  Transactions?  Clicks? User data? Sales?  “Brand awareness”?  Being hip/cool?  Often advertisers use buying agents (agencies, buying teams, their uncle…), so the values are compounded.  The buying agent may value sticking to budget, being hip, being secure…   The confusion in measurement for media and advertising has partial roots in what the bigger financial market (venture capitalists, board members, stock market/shareholders, banks/lenders) value. Do the financiers value media footprint (eyeballs), transactional value (CPMs), advertising market ownership (spend share), loyalty (repeat spends, repeat users)?   When you look at the two value sets and try to assess whether the social networking sites fulfill any combination/which combination you find that social networks are out of whack with mainstream values.  Social networks drive huge footprints and user loyalty and are good at exposing users to brands/ideas/concepts. Social networks have yet to drive transactions or any offsite activity so most of the values to advertisers with the current advertiser approach cannot be fulfilled.

Don’t forget to add the set of rapidly changing distribution mechanisms (the APIs, social networking platforms, ad implements, publishing toolsets, scripting languages, AJAX vs FLASH vs Silverlight, the tracking systems…)

Thus confusion.

Resolution?  Experience.  That’s it.  Everyone will gain experience and we’ll integrate social networking advertising and not even notice because their will be some other “new thing” chewing up attention on blogs and at water coolers.

I had believed that social networking and behavioral targeting was just a fad.

A common response to an unknown stimulus.  Until you experience new methods enough, everything we don’t know about is a fad.

That it will end up just being another tool in the arsenal once somebody actually figures it out.  I think it won’t really take off until someone develops a standard that everyone can follow.  Until then it’s just a mishmash of technologies and ideas that are just tangents of the same idea.  Being in the industry, we hear about every new concept of trying to aggregate behavior and bucketing those behaviors to try and create useful targeting.  It all revolves around collecting site behavior.

Right, see my note above.

Some of the more interesting ones actually involve trying to apply psychological profiles and social classifications based on the user’s browsing behavior.

Pyschological profiles?  ugh.  It’s behavior that matters.  The psychology, in typical usuage, is a useless abstraction.  As a thought experiment, profile yourself.  What’s you profile?  Another experiement: Go to your amazon.com page – based on the products you’ve purchased and they recommend, what does it really say about you and can you do much to target yourself that you couldn’t do by matching like categorized products that get ok user reviews?

Behavior classifications based on schedules of reinforcement,with historical and contextual classification is the way to go.  Read up on schedules on reinforcement to understand the concept and how it might be applied to online advertising.  Basically, a publisher needs to understand rates of reinforcement and what schedules a user behaves under.  You can have the perfect product and a great message but if you miss a users schedule, they won’t buy.  Schedules can be:

  • buying schedules
  • reading schedules
  • relationship schedules
  • job schedules
  • cultural schedules
  • learning schedules

One topical example that might help understanding. Think about this years elections and why the candidates might be having more success with their platforms vs. in previous years.  The voters schedules are inline with some politicians message.  The context of economy, health care, unpopular war, social upheaval, housing issues are both on social schedules/cycles and personal cycles.   Certain politician presentation styles and stance on these issues fit better in the current schedules than others.

Your own schedules impact how you vote and how others might influence your vote.

I suppose you could say “timing is everything.”

Is sn or bt about the consumers or the influencers?  Up to this point, anyone trying to use influencers has typically been exposed.  All those attempts at viral are quickly uncovered as manufactured.  It is true what they say that the internet is the world’s greatest laboratory.  The collective intelligence will typically uncover a insincere effort rather quickly.

Is there a difference between consumers and influencers?  and does the exposition of that difference matter at all?

Authenticity and credibility are very much tied to values.  A manufactured attempt a buzz is usually the result of the manufacturing body not understanding the values of the consumers. Often agencies, marketers and publishers get the optics (the outside packaging) of a product or service but totally miss the utility. (hint: ipods are much more than music on the go with a nice digital store)

SEO has generally been regarded as a good thing.  Even though it has been used by every advertiser to increase their influence.  It has ensured that any content worth knowing can be found.

I suppose.  A sidenote: SEO was also a product of the search companies themselves to improve their own product.  The better content can be found the more useful the search engine.

But what about social networking and behavioral targeting?  The impact of social networking is just beginning to be felt.  So much personal data.  Will the collective eventually see this as a good thing or bad?

It’s neither good nor bad and will never be labeled as such.  It’s all about value.  You give all your professional data to LinkedIn and Monster because they help you get a job, you do not always share this information with your land lord because he might use it against you.  You give your friends names to Facebook because it helps you communicate.  You give google all of your search queries because it finds the info you need, but you’d never share your search query list with your girlfriend – you’d have far too much explaining to do.

It’s influence will be far greater than SEO.  Will they approve of having their personal details used for the purposes of a more efficient marketing machine?  Can they do anything about it if they really wanted to?

Social networking traffic is different than search traffic.  It’s not greater or lesser in any quantifiable sense, certainly not yet.

Yes, you can do something about your data.  Always.

One of the current problems with behavioral targeting is that no one has developed a method of success reporting.  What is a success metric for a bt campaign?  Advertisers are still using visits and clicks as success metrics.  Widgets is an interesting method.  It requires adoption by users, and once adopted, do they interact with your widget?  Consume it’s content, pass it along to friends?  Do friends adopt it without prompting?  It certainly opens up a whole new area of measurable behaviors that were never available before.

See my earlier notes on the confusion of values.

This gets back to the influencer vs the consumer.  How do you target the influencers?  Heck, how do you identify the influencers.  That, I believe is the tricky part.  The influencers are not a stable group.  They are never the same.  They can be an influencer one day, and an consumer the next.  If you could come up with a method for identifying the influencers for any advertiser then you would really have something.

My focus is on coming up with a way to track, analyze and respond to schedules.  If I know your schedules, I don’t need to know you.  Tracking schedules doesn’t require demographic studies or surveys or other intrusive methods.  I can use the behaviors you exhibit.  The web is excellent for this.

My point is that I can spend time classifying people into various categories by gender, “personality”, social status in an effort to predict behavior OR I can just observe the behavior and schedules and attend directly to that.

~R

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Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis has an interesting piece on Edge.org right now.  He’s also done some cool research on a variety of subjects with social networks as the focus.

Here I present a critique of his dialog on Edge.org.  I eagerly await the actual publication of his Facebook.com-based research papers http://christakis.med.harvard.edu/pages/pubs/pub-sn_ihe.html.  In the meantime I’ve researched his publicly available papers (such as this one: http://christakis.med.harvard.edu/pdfs/077.pdf) and read his Edge.org piece several times.  He’s consistent in his approach and vocabulary across his publications.

My goal in commenting on the dialog isn’t to add more noise or to be an anti-academic ranter (nor is it altruistic!). Using social networks as a data source for understanding behavior is very useful for improving media, business and our lives.  Unfortunately in our collective business, academic, social and political rush to make use of all this data, our vocabularies and approaches are all over the place and the conclusions drawn from all the research do not yet provide much practical value.  The interest in this research has exploded and now is the time to coagulate it all.

I’m excited that Dr. Christakis is out of the gate and hopefully I can help us benefit from his work, refine it, and build from it.  I personally have several reasons to value is work – UChicago connection, health care (my family was one of the main subject of SiCKO), and social network studies (that’s what I do!).

That said, here we go.

“For me, social networks are like the eye. They are incredibly complex and beautiful, and looking at them begs the question of why they exist, and why they come to pass. Do we need a kind of just-so story to explain them?  Do they just happen to be there, for no particular reason?  Or do they serve some purpose – some ontological and also pragmatic purpose?  “

Complexity is only a weak connection between the development of the eye and the development of social networks.  That is, stating two things are similar because they are complex provides no value in understanding either.  It’s an anchor for saying “hey, here’s something that seems like it should have a purpose because it’s seemingly so well suited to what it does and the other thing over here has that same feeling to it.” Fine, I get it.  Unfortunately, I think using it as the headline to an article and lead in paragraph gets the reader linking the two subjects.  The evolution of the eye is such an abused ID vs evolution metaphor it’s best to not recall it.

Though the passive appeal to purpose is not helpful, at least Dr. Christakis does ask whether they serve a purpose or they “just happen to be there.”  He clearly understands that purpose itself is not likely to lead to understanding the social networks anymore than its helping in uncovering the workings and “origin” of the eye.

The eye and social networks are emergent properties of selection by consequences.  We can eliminate the purpose discussion right now.  When a scientist goes down the road of uncovering “purpose” it leads only to further linguistic logic, not to actual descriptions of relationships between variables.

“The amazing thing about social networks, unlike other networks that are almost as interesting – networks of neurons or genes or stars or computers or all kinds of other things one can imagine – is that the nodes of a social network – the entities, the components – are themselves sentient, acting individuals who can respond to the network and actually form it themselves. “

The sentient and acting qualities of the entities of social networks is hardly unique or amazing.  No doubt human behavior and social interaction is complicated, but there’s no mysterious free will or free creator aspect to any of it.  Other network entities like neurons, genes, stars, computers and particles all operate more or less under selection by consequences (the differences is in what “unit” is selected and what stimulus the unit can attend to.)

Social networks seem amazing to us, I suppose, because of their complexity and our inability to talk about about human behavior/social behavior without appealing to the “thinking” (sentient, acting) man.  Social networks become more measurable and understandable when we stop trying to measure mentalistic concepts and stop analyzing the behavior in terms of some unique quality of mankind.

“I began to see in a very real way that the illness of the person dying was affecting the health status of other individuals in the family. And I began to see this as a kind of non-biological transmission of disease – as if illness or death or health care use in one person could cause illness or death or health care use in other people connected to him. It wasn’t an epidemic transmission of a germ; something else was happening. This is a very basic observation about what I now call “interpersonal health effects, but as I began to have more and more clinical experience with such patients, I began to broaden the focus. I became interested not just in dyadic transmission of illness and illness burden, but also hyper-dyadic transmission.”

Interpersonal health effects? Hyper-dyadic transmission?  These are big phrases more simply stated as behavior between two or more people.  Why add a higher level language construct when simply cataloging, measuring and describing the behavior and stimulus does the trick?

Dr. Christakis can do without the big phrases as he does in his following paragraph:

“For example, one day I met with a pretty typical scenario: a woman who was dying and her daughter who was caring for her. The mother had been sick for quite a while and she had dementia. The daughter was exhausted from years of caring for her, and in the course of caring, she became so exhausted that her husband also became sick from his wife’s preoccupation with her mother. One day I got a call from the husband’s best friend, with his permission, to ask me about him. So here we have the following cascade: parent to daughter, daughter to husband, and husband to friend. That is four people – a cascade of effects through the network. And I became sort of obsessed with the notion that these little dyads of people could agglomerate to form larger structures. “

Great! Here we can actually dig into the behavior of the people,  the consequences, and the web of feedback stimilus.

Interestingly you find that nothing is actually transferred nor spread between people.  There’s no unit of illness that is transferred.  It is misleading to suggest there’s a “nature of contagion within networks” when people do not actually exchange a contagion.

He somewhat agrees with that in saying “What spreads from person to person is a behavior, and it is the behavior that we both might exhibit that then contributes to our changes in body size. So, the spread of behaviors from person to person might cause or underlie the spread of obesity.”  But really it’s not behavior itself that spreads.  Nothing is spread at all.  An entity responds to its environment and the consequences to its own behavior. An entity does not catch behavior or even mirror behavior.  If an entity’s behavior is reinforced, it will continue.  Social networks have a variety of ways in which participants reinforce or extinguish behavior via consequences (humiliation, praise, points, money, jobs, credibility, reputation, pictures… and so on), they have no power to transmit behavior.  What is behavior?  What is the unit of behavior?

Saying behavior spreads is like saying time flies.  Time isn’t anything.  Time is a word we use to say “we’re going to count the frequency of events relative to other events.”  Behavior is a similar concept.  (I’m going to need to follow up on this or flat out delete it later as it may not be useful to anyone but me.)  The take away here is that if you can’t define something and literally see it transmit from one entity to another, the concept of spreading is kind of moot.  You can transmit a virus (literally watch the virus go from one host to another).  You can’t transmit behavior.  Behavior is what an entity does.  Other entities and the environment either reinforce the entity to keep emitting the behavior or to extinguish it.  If many individuals emit the same behavior in succession it may appear to be “spreading” but really the entities are likely responding to the same consequences in similar ways.  What’s the harm in thinking of it spreading?  The harm is that one starts looking for the transmission medium (remember “ether” in early physics!?) or other mental constructs to explain casual chains.

Here we see that play out:

“So we can begin to think about combining a broad variety of ideas. Some stretch back to Plato, and thinking about well-ordered societies, the origins of good and evil, how people form collectives, how a state might be organized. In fact, we can begin to revisit ideas engaged by Rousseau and other philosophers on man in a state of nature. How can we transcend anarchy?  Anarchy can be conceived of as a kind of social network phenomenon, and society and social order can also be conceived of as a social network phenomenon.  “

Dr. Christakis is going back to Plato for insight?  Hey, I like Plato as much as the next intellectual but I don’t ever look back to him for present behavioral insight  no more than I look to Aristotle to describe gravity to me.

Yes, you can permute philosophical ideas to social network phenomenons.  Who cares?

How do we transend anarchy?”

What does that mean?

Well ordered-societies?  The origins of good and evil? 

Really?  We’re not past that yet? When are we actually going to get down to talking about how people behave?

“This is how I began to think about social networks about seven years ago. At the time when I was thinking about this, I moved from the University of Chicago to Harvard, and was introduced to my colleague James Fowler, another social scientist, who was also beginning to think about different kinds of network problems from the perspective of political science. He was interested in problems of collective action – how groups of people are organized, how the action of one individual can influence the actions of other individuals. He was also interested in basic problems like altruism. Why would I be altruistic toward somebody else?  What purpose does altruism serve?  In fact, I think that altruism is a key predicate to the formation of social networks because it serves to stabilize social ties. If I were constantly violent towards other people, or never reciprocated anything good, the network would disintegrate, all the ties would be cut. Some level of altruism is required for networks to emerge.”

Altruism is another word that provides no explanatory power.  Take any definition of altruism you like.  and you still end up no where.  Lack of violence does not equal altruism.  No entity takes one for the team.  No entity is selfish.  These are personifications and metaphors.  Really, leave out selfishness and altruism and purpose and the analysis proceeds more smoothly.

Selection by conquences describes the social interactions accurately without all of the linguistic and mentalistic scaffolding.  Dr. Christakis layers on economics, topology, sociology, nuerobiology and as many other ologies and ics as is possible to explain behavior.  Let’s get it back to basics!

“Again, the study of social networks is part of this assembly project, part of this effort to understand how you can then have the emergence of order and the emergence of new phenomena that do not inhere in the individuals. We have, for example, consciousness, which cannot be understood by studying neurons. Consciousness is an emergent property of neuronal tissue. And we can imagine similarly certain kinds of emergent properties of social networks that do not inhere in the individuals – properties that arise because of the ties between individuals and because of the complexity of those ties. “

We’re getting closer here. The claim that consciousness is an emergent property of neuronal tissue is out of place though.   Consciousness as a concept isn’t needed here and is so ill defined it describes (relates) nothing.

Just as I think we’re finally moving on to the actual relationships between variables in networks, Dr. Christakis describes the spread of obesity.

“To us, it is a very, very fundamental observation that things happening in a social space beyond your vision – events that occur or choices that are made by people you don’t know – can cascade in a conscious or subconscious way through a network and affect you. This is a very profound and fundamental observation about the operation of social life, which we initially examined while looking at obesity. We found that weight gain in a variety of kinds of people you might know affected your weight gain – weight gain in your friends, in your spouse, in your siblings and so forth.  Moreover, people beyond those to whom you were directly tied also influenced your weight, people up to three degrees removed from you in the network. And, incidentally, we found that weight loss obeys the same properties and spreads similarly through the network.”

Obesity in an individual is a probability/possibility that depends on the reinforcement of healthy eating and exercise behaviors in media, in our friends, and in our families combined with genetics, epigentics and food/water supply all mashed into a web of contingencies.  A social network study may highlight that web, but it’s not any particular property of the network itself.

His other paper has the same faulty logic that the network layout is a causal agent. (N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years,” New England Journal of Medicine  357(4): 370-379 (July 2007) MS#077)

In Spread of Obesity study he observes:

“Although connected persons might share an exposure to common environmental factors, the experience of simultaneous events, or other common features (e.g., genes) that cause them to gain or lose weight simultaneously, our observations suggest an important role for a process involving the induction and person-to-person spread of obesity.

Our findings that the weight gain of immediate neighbors did not affect the chance of weight gain in egos and that geographic distance did not modify the effect for other types of alters (e.g., friends or siblings) helps rule out common exposure to local environmental factors as an explanation for our observations.”

Ruling out neighbors’ effects does not rule common exposure to local environmental factors.  You are more likely to go to work, school, shopping and church (local environment) with your mutual friends rather than your neighbors.  How is local environment defined?  When discussing obesity one must include the common exercising, eating and stress inducing environments, not simply the local neighborhood or grocery store.

If Dr. Christakis is best anchored in his language of social networks that’s ok as long as we all get an accurate understanding of the relationships between the variables he’s studying.  Unfortunately, in this dialog the terminology generates relationships between words, not between people and their behavior and consequences.  Less efficiently, he’s simply repackaging (almost as though it were NEW!) well known aspects of behaviorism, evolution and economics.

“We are interested not in biological contagion, but in social contagion. One possible mechanism is that I observe you and you begin to display certain behaviors that I then copy. For example, you might start running and then I might start running. Or you might invite me to go running with you. Or you might start eating certain fatty foods and I might start copying that behavior and eat fatty foods. Or you might take me with you to restaurants where I might eat fatty foods. What spreads from person to person is a behavior, and it is the behavior that we both might exhibit that then contributes to our changes in body size. So, the spread of behaviors from person to person might cause or underlie the spread of obesity.

A completely different mechanism would be for there to be not a spread of behaviors, but a spread of norms. I look at the people around me and they are gaining weight. This changes my idea, consciously or subconsciously, about what is an acceptable body size. People around me who start gaining weight reset my expectations about what it means to be overweight or thin, and this is what spreads from person to person: a norm. It is a kind of meme (but it is not quite a meme) that goes from person to person. “

Copying behavior? Norms? Memes?

Run from these explanations!  They add more layers of language.  So now to explain behavior I need to understand genetics, memes, norms, contagions!  Ugh.

Dr. Christakis’ conclusion:

“In our empirical work so far, we have found substantial evidence for the latter mechanism, the spread of norms, more than the spread of behaviors.”

Okay, so now we’re looking for the spread of norms. (another word for values).  Why introduce a world like “norms” to replace “values”? And whether you call it norms or values, it still isn’t anything that is spread.  I hate to beat a dead horse, but by using a spreading metaphor as a transmission method we move further from what is actually going on.

We are reinforced by what we value.  What we value can be altered by what others value (Super Size Me!) and our environment (If I only have access to junk food, I come to value it).

Really, we do not need all the extra terminology and models. Indentifying values, uncovering environmental variables, measuring behavior rates, and plotting schedules of reinforcement is the data needed.  The extra intervening variables (memes, norms, mirror neurons, contagion) do not predict anything and do not improve the explanatory accuracy.

Dr. Christakis points to his work on Facebook data.  I, too, think it’s a neat source of social data, but it should not constituite serious data for things like obesity, health, privacy and other complicated subjects.  Facebook is flush with noisy and commercialized information.  A lot of what people put online is not what they’d do if you met them, what they’d put in medical records, what they have in their photo albums at home, how they answer an anonymous survey and so on.  In other words, trying to suss out universal networking theories from a commercialized, college focused social networking site is probably not great.

Specific to my point let’s look at his statements on social ties:

“We have trawled through this large social network and grabbed information about people in the network, and their social ties, as is available on Facebook – for example, information having to do with their tastes, with the people with whom they appear in photographs, and so on.   For example, a person might have an average of 100 or 200 friends on Facebook, but they might only appear in photographs with 10 of them. We would argue that appearing in a photograph constitutes a different kind of social tie than a mere nomination of friendship”

Most photos posted to facebook are done in batches – usually within the initial sign up process or the “honeymoon” period when people are still excited about signing up.  Photos people post online are representative of who they are around physically most of the time and in picture taking settings.  The composition of your friends list is highly biased towards who is active on Facebook, who you might be in school or work with and so on.  It really isn’t great at suggesting the particulars of social ties in any real world kind of way.

So much of what you do on Facebook is heavily influenced by user interface and the software system.  Certain things are easier than others or more obvious AND the interface has changed constantly (how you post photos, how you set privacy, what’s set by default).  Also impacting use of Facebook is the savviness of the user.  There are far more people not using Facebook in this world than those that are.  Facebook skews far younger and savvier than the population at large, so the stuidies that come out are biased to that group (and that is important when discussing behavior!) http://www.quantcast.com/facebook.com/demographics

Again, it is a great source of data and certainly has value, but you need to have many secondary sources to back up conclusions based on online network data.  Also, what you don’t get access to is all the behavioral data – emails, alerts, pokes, system alerts, click throughs, ad response, eye tracking, referrers…

There are two other authors connected to Dr. Christakis’ dialog.  There isn’t much meat to their statements. Rushkoff’s metaphor of a “media virus” is pretty shallow and is another case of language complication.  One day I may go in for a bigger response.  Rushkoff is a neat dude producing lots of cool stuff so this statement isn’t indicative of his quality of thinking.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/christakis08/christakis08_index.html#dr

I have another pretty detailed presentation from my pal, Dan Goldstein (www.decisionsciencenews.com) from the London School of Business that is tangential to all of this (I will post with permission soon).  A lot of the vocabulary is the same and the data is impressive.  It’s missing a key part too!  WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON AT THE ENTITY (PEOPLE) LEVEL? Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Christakis agree that the topology of the network is hugely important to understanding how fast, when, what, who spreads ideas, data, values, norms (whatever you want to call it!).  However, there’s no WHY inherent in the network makeup.  What is reinforcing to social network participants?  How does reinforcement work?  What behaviors can we reliably measure on the social networks?  What data should we ignore?  How is behavior reinforced on the network?  How we tie online and offline behavior together?

That’s my task.  Filling that in is my contribution.

~R

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  • 37,000 participants on Facebook during the live debates last night.
  • live polling
  • live blogging
  • email direct to campaign advisors
  • immediate reactions
  • raw videos from the event
  • videos from the location

The debates were lively and alive.  Interactive and immersive.  Ok, ok, so some of the political banter during the debate itself was the same ol’ schtick but this time we get to tell these campaign managers what we need NOW.

Pretty amazing that we, the people, received 4 hours of coverage with all the candidates and had accessible and usable interactive tools to discuss.

The YouTube – CNN debate format was exceptionally cool too.  Imagine if Facebook and YouTube joined up to bring the audience, media tools, and interactive experiences all together.  Man, what a tool for democratic discussion!

Perhaps there’s a downside to this… the American Public.  The online / social network crowd is NOT representative of the American public.  Facebook and YouTube are not the tools of most people in the country.  It’s going to get easier and cheaper for campaigns and media outlets to use the online tools to reach people and they may leave out the non-tech-savvy crowd for sometime.

There has to be some way to bring the interactivity to the masses.

Can YouTube and Facebook use their considerable creativity and investments to “get local” and “get offline” to reach people?  These tools are bigger than online advertising vehicles.  They are platforms for national discussion, for democracy and for transparency.  As such, they need to grow into their bigger roles (heck, the consumers and media companies demand it!).

If you haven’t looked at the YouTube archives, MySpace Impact site, Facebook US Politics application nor many of the GREAT online politics sites… you need to do it.  Really, you do.  If you value your vote, your rights in this country, and the strength of the democracy.

Here are some book marks for you:

New Hampshire Primary Channel on YouTube 

Citizine Tube – YouTube Politics Vlog 

YouChoose 08 

Facebook US Politics Application

Impact on MySpace 

Politics Sites linked from Google… 

For fun, but actually a great Futures Market tool… Fantasy Congress 

~Russ

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