Many-to-Many: A Group Blog on Social Software

June 05, 2004

Salon's article about blogging in China (posted by Xiao Qiang)

Mat Honan started his long piece on today's with this sentence: "On the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, blogs are booming in China. But are they making any difference?"

The full article is here. Read it online because it contains many hyperlinks which put the story in context. Registration is required, but non-subscribers can get a free day pass.

June 04, 2004

Fifteen years after Tiananmen massacre, will the Internet be the new hope? (posted by Xiao Qiang)

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, David Callaway from CBS MarketWatch wrote a op-ed piece entitled "Tiananmen hangs over China boom" Here are some quotes from his article:

"The idea that a booming economy will push the hard line government into suddenly deciding to release its grip on power in exchange for some pre-IPO shares of Google and a bunch of lifetime golf club memberships doesn't hold much sway given what's already happened to the economy in China in the last few years.

In fact, the economic excesses we've seen have probably further entrenched China's rulers. So chances are that when real political reform arrives -- which will happen -- it will come suddenly and violently rather than gradually or through some giant national party, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall. "

I hope David's prediction is not true, and the political transformation in China will go through peaceful and smooth process, instead of a violent one. Can the Net play a role in helping China create a peaceful transition to democracy? Will social software that we are discussing in this forum, and other technologies, help gradually release the political tension in Chinese society? Or will the mobile, pervasive, many-to-many communication technologies be powerful tools for the next explosive social uprising, especially if there is an economic downturn? I certainly do not have answers for all these questions. But I have no doubts that the Net is speeding up the death of the old regime in China. In the words of poet T.S. Eliot:
"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

June 03, 2004

Wiki for Group Communication (posted by Ross Mayfield)

Just published a case study for how the division of Ziff Davis media used a hosted wiki for group communications. The results are a pretty compelling value proposition:

“We used to have over 100 group emails per day. Now it’s rarely one per week, we’ve saved a month in a four-month software project, and everyone is on the same page…saved us 25% of the time of a four month project,” said Tom Jessiman. “We couldn’t have done it any other way. Otherwise we would have been stuck in endless meetings, trying to keep track of decisions with printouts and lost emails. We always know the latest version, and had archives of older versions. If there was any debate about something, someone would always say — go look at the wiki.”

100 group emails per day add up to over $1M in soft costs. Part of my email is dead(kinda) rant. More on the business side of wikis in BusinessWeek and eWeek over the last week.

June 02, 2004

Aggregator in development (posted by David Weinberger)

Pito Salas, the technical architect of eRoom, one of the better pieces of corporate social software, is hacking away, writing an aggregator that so far he’s leaning towards open sourcing. He’s blogging the process, with lots of opportunities for the rest of us to comment on features, tech issues, licensing, etc. Pito is wide open to ideas about what would make his aggregator a truly useful tool.

Who owns a weblog's content? (posted by Seb Paquet)

For a year or so the Invisible Adjunct weblog has provided a forum for academics to (mostly) discuss issues relating to campus politics and working conditions in academia. Last March the anonymous author decided to leave the profession and sign off from her weblog. The only problem is that over time a real community has gathered around that weblog, and those people clearly want to continue talking - as the 200-odd comments on the sign-off post attest.

I figured some of them would rather switch boats than go down with the sinking ship, so I created an Invisible Adjunct channel on the Internet Topic Exchange to aggregate relevant posts from members of the community. Much to my pleasure the channel has been put to good use by interested parties: about a hundred posts have appeared on the channel so far.

But another threat is looming on the horizon - the IA is planning to take down the site a week from now. This means all the content will vanish. The site hasn’t been indexed by the Internet Archive since June of last year. (Ironically, the last post that shows on the Wayback machine is precisely about the loss of archives!) And the IA hasn’t allowed mirroring.

Of course many participants wish to preserve the memory, but it is unclear who’s calling the shots at this point. Who wrote the site? Granted, the IA wrote all the front page material by herself, hundreds of posts. But there are also thousands of comments in there that have been contributed by readers. A commenter raises the issue in those terms:

I believe the comments form the bulk of the site overall (correct me if I’m wrong), and that much of the value comes from the conversations that took place under IA’s supervision. In some sense she’s not the “author” of the site, but rather the caretaker of an online community.

I have no idea what’s going to happen to that content, but I guess the moral here is “use caution before you invest significantly in a site that you don’t control”. A lot of commenters might now find themselves wishing they had commented on their own site so that their words wouldn’t go down with the rest.

June 01, 2004

The backchannel and conference design (posted by Clay Shirky)

The use of attendee backchannels at conferences, a a favorite theme here, is part of a larger trend, towards ad hoc organization, or even ad hoc creation of value.

You can see the context backchannels are happening in by looking at the Users create the schedule process for this weekend’s 2004 Planetwork conference.

Anyone can propose a topic, anyone can create a login to rate a topic, and the half-hour speaking slots are given to the top ranked topics. To get such a slot, a talk needs to be both highly and broadly rated. (In subsequent passes at this method of selection, organizers will have to work against gaming-the-system options, of course, but the current style is fine for now.)

Interestingly, the Planetwork folks have handed out the first 3 half-hour slots, and are going to do 3 more on June 2nd, and 3 more on June 3rd, meaning that the conference emerges over time. It also might let voters optimize the slots over time, as they see unaddressed topics and vote related proposals up.

I say might, because it’s not clear how coordinated the voting can get in this framework. One class of risk in this system is ‘slashdot risk’, named after the reflexive stance on slashdot in favor of Linux, making even well-meaning criticism of that OS much less popular than even the most vapid pro-Linux boosterism. Groups have a hard time selecting topics or speakers who violate their cherished assumptions, so the interface could in certain groups amplify existing prejudices.

The emergence of new classes of risk, however, is inevitable (as with ‘clique risk’ that happens in backchannels) because the weakness of the current conference form is so great that new ways of handing power to the users, however beset with problems, will be preferred by the users themselves.

The social dilemmas of a conference are many, but most of them can be grouped under one heading: social loss. At a large, topic-specific conference, there are several obvious forms of loss

Conference organizers will object that these new styles of arranging and participating in conferences will do more harm than good, and in many cases that will be true, but it won’t matter, because the real change here is not that technology is allowing new forms of participation, but rather that it is allowing new forms of creation — a conference has heretofore been an artifact, crafted by a small group for a large group, and as usual, the small group has found many ways to justify its existence (and I say this as a veteran of conference planning.)

The ace in the hole, though, was capability — the small group model is required because the coordination cost for the involvement of a large group is simply too high. Whatever arguments there might be for involving attendees directly run aground on the difficulties of actually doing anything about it.

Until now. Because of its plasticity, because of the tech-savvy nature of the road warrior clan who make up the core of its attendees, and because the “money for value” equation is quite direct, the conference form is an early warning of the pressures other social forms, better but not perfectly insulated, are going to undergo as social software continues to blow back through existing institutions.

Chinese Wikipedia (posted by Xiao Qiang)

PC World reported the Chinese wikipedia story today. An informal group of Chinese volunteers has been working on this project since May 2001. According to Hong Kong Scholar Andrew Lih, the Chinese language Wikipedia ( is still relatively small, with just over 6,500 articles, and ranks as the 12th largest just behind Esperanto and Italian (as of March 1, 2004). It only recently gained attention in the Chinese press and I certainly believe that this persistent media will draw more and more participants in Chinese cyberspace.

May 30, 2004

Ethnographic Disruptions (posted by Ross Mayfield)

An interesting interview with Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell challenges assumptions of technology in disparate cultures. “My hypothesis was that there was no variation, that there was a global middle class engaged in the same kinds of relationships with technology. It was a hypothesis that was rapidly disproved.” We have highlighted the use of social software to support third places, between work and home, by early adopters in the West, however:

One of the things that became clear in Asia, and is becoming true in the West, but we’re not really good at seeing it, is that people are using these technologies for those third activities. In Asia, it’s visible in the way people use mobile devices to support religious activities. The nicest example is people using their mobile phones to find Mecca. LGE, a Korean handset company, has produced a Mecca-finding handset with GPS technology in it. So it’s a tool of religious devotion. They anticipated selling 300 million units in the first couple years.

AJ Kim also highlighted the people-centric (instead of topic-centric) nature of social networking has an intrinsic fit with mobile devices. But what happens when not everyone can afford one so they are shared? Or when cost and skills require intermediation with devices?

In the U.S., we imagine that mobile phones are linked to individuals, and it’s a mode of individual communication. In fact, the model of privatized ownership is one of our foundational social notions, even within the family. We have one of everything — our own cars our own TV, PC . . . But people believe in different ways of ownership . . .

There’s a bunch of working classes and ethnic groups that own phones in common. The model is not individual-to-individual communications, but node to node, or social network to social network, and that model is proliferating, particularly as devices move out of middle classes and into a wider spectrum in society where people are never going to own them individually.

Its interesting to consider tools that support individuals who are a proxy for an offline social network. Groups become more than first class objects, the proxy represents the multitude of interests and combinations to other groups. Mobile devices that support transitive ownership may be more server-centric and counter the models of device manufacturers (intelligent edges) and service providers (variable billing). What happens when there is no end to end-to-end?

BBS in China (posted by Xiao Qiang)

I know c.c. function of email can be counted as "social software." What about BBS? It certainly can function as many-to-many. Anyway, the reason I say this here is because BBS is the most politically active place in Chinese cyberspace. The number of Chinese Internet users is quickly reaching 90 million. (Already surpassing the number of members of the Chinese Communist Party. ) About one-fifth of Chinese netizens regularly make use of BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). These BBSs can be run by individuals, commercial companies such as, or government agencies. At any given time, there are literally tens of thousands of users active in these BBS and forums, reading news, searching for information, and debating current affairs. Even on official Web sites such as People’s Daily, its popular BBS, Strong Nation Forum, has more than 280,000 registered members and more than 12,000 posts per day. Together with e-mail listservs, chat rooms, instant message services, wireless short text messaging, and an emerging Weblogging community, the BBSs have provided unprecedented opportunities for Chinese netizens to engage in public affairs. I chaired a round table discussion on this subject in Berkeley last month. Here is the webcast link.