Tag Archives: SxSWi

SxSWi: Is Privacy Dead, or Just Very Confused?

I attended this session because : danah boyd (one of my heroes) and Judith Donath of MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Center (whom I happen to know personally) were speaking. Also on the panel (and interesting in their own right): Siva Vaidyanathan (author of the forthcoming “The Googleization of Everything”), who said (among other Read More…

I attended this session because : danah boyd (one of my heroes) and Judith Donath of MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Berkman Center (whom I happen to know personally) were speaking.

Also on the panel (and interesting in their own right):

  • Siva Vaidyanathan (author of the forthcoming “The Googleization of Everything”), who said (among other things) that privacy is not the opposite of publicity. Privacy is not a substance. It means different things in different contexts.
  • Alice Marwick, doing her dissertation on the Effect of Social Media on Social Status

What follows is a transcription of my notes, with [my own thoughts and comments].

CEOs these days expect their staff to be familiar with social technology. [Yay! I can haz job!]

There is social value to online relationships – people get real emotional support online.

But the information we put online is valuable to marketers.

[D here: So what? I just wish they’d make it valuable to me. Personally, I would be happy to see advertising that I’m actually interested in.

Take car advertising. How often does any of us buy a car? Yet it seems that every other ad on TV or at the movies is for a car. I’d like to know which is larger: the number of cars sold in the US each year, or the number of car ads shown? For most people, buying a car is a relatively rare event. Much of that advertising must be a waste of car companies’ money, and it’s certainly a waste of my time and attention, which I resent.

I was intensely interested in information about cars for a few weeks last summer, and again this March when I was buying a first car for my daughter. For myself, I ended up leasing a Toyota Rav4. I knew I liked this car because I had driven it as a rental for several weeks, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the sticker price. Then I discovered (on the Toyota website) a great lease deal that I qualified for, so I was able to get my dream car. I only test-drove one other (a used Hyundai SUV). No doubt the fact that the Rav4 was available as a rental at that time and place was part of a marketing effort – in my case, a very effective one.

For Ross, I did a lot more research, entirely online, for a good “starter” car that would last a while. She drove only one model – the Honda Fit – and that’s what she now owns (or rather, what the bank owns and I’m now paying for). A key selling point was Consumer Reports’ safety rating on this model (a big concern for me as the mother of a new driver).

If I’ve ever noticed either of these cars advertised in print or media, I don’t remember it. I do remember examples of advertising that had a negative impact on me, e.g. the painfully obvious product placement of Lexus in Desperate Housewives and Fiat in Montalbano.

So all the money spent showing me car ads was wasted. As Judith Donath said, there should be rewards for accurate targeting. In fact, there would be: I would buy!]

Judith Donath is interested in visualization of online identity/history.

Is online identity meaningful? You have different public faces for different spheres. We try to maintain control of our various public personas, but the web is causing the collapse of personalities.

[Which is to say: It’s hard to be one kind of person in your private life and a very different kind of person in your professional life, if much of both is viewable online. Coincidentally, a woman at another session I attended described trying to juggle two identities in Second Life. She said: “I’m trying to live two lives. And it’s killing me!”

I guess I’ve been lucky that I’ve always been myself, online and off. ]

It’s hard to know how others see you. We need technology to show us a mirror of the trails we have left behind (an area of research interest for Judith right now).

SV: There was a movement towards privacy in the mid-70s which resulted in current laws, e.g., no branch of government can share information about you with any other branch.

danah boyd: Young people see privacy differently. They do not see their homes as private spaces because they do not have control there – their parents can invade their rooms at any time.

Young people are also very aware of the role of power imbalances in privacy, and they find ways to trick the system.

“Because she puts so many things online, people think that’s all that’s going on.” [Now there’s a topic I could write reams on. But not today.]

SV: personal information is a currency.

JD: Time is also a context.

Discussion on health insurance, privacy and employability [ a topic I’ve written about myself].

Privacy and personal presentations of the self:

Privacy is a historically recent concept. People used to live in small tribes/communities in which everyone knew everyone else’s business.

[Me again: If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know exactly what this is like.

It seems to me that the solution is simply not to do anything that you would be ashamed to have held up to public scrutiny. Obviously, this requires a society in which very little is grounds for shame. And this may be exactly what is happening in America. As Judith said: “We are creating what may be the most open and accepting society [in history] because we can see so much [online] about people’s divergent behaviors.”

The film “Milk” portrays how (some) young gay people living in middle America in the 1970s saw Harvey Milk – an openly gay man – on the news, and realized that they could go and be themselves in larger cities that had gay communities. For that to happen, Milk had to make enough of a stir to appear in the national news, and perhaps he died for it. Nowadays, all sorts of “differences” can be researched online, and anyone can find kindred spirits and support. (Yes, there are some cases in which this is worrying.)]

JD: In a society of millions of people trying to keep up with what their norms are, that’s the function of celebrity: to give us a basis for comparison/discussion. [D: I find this idea frightening. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as social norms?]

We want people to pay attention to us. What is the value of that?

SxSWi Report – Social Media: Connecting with Customers

Note: This was listed in the catalog as “Social Media: If You Liked it, Then You Should Have Put a Digg on It…”, which I wouldn’t have bothered to attend, but when I walked by the room the title had changed to “Social Media: Connecting with Customers”, which was a lot more obviously interesting to Read More…

Note: This was listed in the catalog as “Social Media: If You Liked it, Then You Should Have Put a Digg on It…”, which I wouldn’t have bothered to attend, but when I walked by the room the title had changed to “Social Media: Connecting with Customers”, which was a lot more obviously interesting to me. This was also one of the few panels that didn’t seem to treat large corporations (and those of us who work for them) as the enemy.


  • Chris Bowler – VP Social Media Lead, Razorfish (moderator)
  • Jordan Corredera -  Director of Online Marketing, Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Paula Drum – VP Digital Marketing, H&R Block
  • Malini Ratnam – Digital Media Mgr, Avenue A/Razorfish/JCPenney

First, each panelist gave an overview on what their company is doing in social media (comments on the companies themselves are partly my own, for the benefit of non-US readers who may not be familiar with these companies):

H&R Block

Well-known in the US as a tax preparation service, H&R Block’s problem is that their business is extremely seasonal, running from January (they kick off their advertising season with the SuperBowl) through Tax Day on April 15th. They are trying to use social media to stay in the public consciousness year-round. The overall theme is customer connections to build lifelong relationships.

Tactics include:

  • a tax news widget for tax professionals
  • YouTube contests
  • online community
  • tax-themed content related to other times of year, e.g. back to school, company benefits enrollment periods
  • provide customer service via Twitter and Yahoo Answers
  • helping tax professionals participate in these programs as well
  • along with the Social Media Club, have organized/participated in Tweetups in 10 cities

JC Penney

Penney is a very old retail company, and is trying to overcome a rather musty reputation with younger shoppers: “Trying not to be ‘your mother’s store’.” They have chosen to actively participate in women’s online communities.

Their first big project is the extremely funny “doghouse” video (which I had seen long before this conference, though I had probably forgotten that it was done by JC Penney):

At the time it had had 4.1 million views with a 60% completion rate, resulting in 600 (new) Twitter followers and 1100 tweets/retweets. It was initially seeded from a Penney microsite using Facebook Connect. Traffic crashed the server and led to higher fees. Offloaded the traffic to YouTube.

They’ve also set up a Facebook group targeted to women, after finding that segmentation by Penney sub-brands did not work. And they’ve got a customer service Twitter account.

Someone asked what was the ROI on the doghouse video campaign. The answer was that brand awareness, not ROI, was the objective; a hard sell would not have been as successful.

Carnival Cruise Lines

In 2005, Carnival set up a group planning tool built on Community Server. The Cruise Talk forum there grew to 500 posts/day, and was followed by a “scrapblog” and a Twitter account with 1300 followers.

Then came a blog by John Heald, a cruise director, which has become immensely popular, as measured by 100 comments a day [visitor stats were not given].This has grown into a multimedia extravaganza including live chats, videos (quality was an issue), etc. Cruising is inherently social, so this has worked well.

[D here: This is an example of how effective social media marketing can be when tied to a real personality. You can also build community around that person: Heald fans want to talk to each other, there are now even Heald-themed fan cruises.]

Then the moderator asked questions:

How do you set up your organization to participate in social media?

H&R Block: You have to figure out where does this fit. Customer service, communications, marketing, field coordination…? The company isn’t yet on board, we’re still in a skunkworks phase. We’re trading off media dollars with human capital – we have only one person for Twitter, which is a 24/7 job. [But she said later that some resources are being shifted to social media.]

Also, the Federal Trade Commission is changing the legislation about blogging [as relates to professional tax preparers]. We’re still figuring out how to train people, what legal disclosures are needed. Ideally, we’d like tax preparers to be blogging. Education and support are difficult. People need to understand that it’s okay to have your own personality.

JC Penney: Similar situation, we have no dedicated social media team. [Some problem of] brick and mortar stores vs. jcpenney.com. Facebook took off for us when it became a two-way conversation, but that takes dedicated staff.

Carnival: We have an online community manager with two moderators and a social media strategist. Not seeing any particular efficiences from online yet.

How can we measure the results of social media?

Page views, links to transactions.

How does this tie back to brand? How do we make the brand relevant to the new generation?

Word of mouth as brand tracker, but it moves over multiple years.

ROI = Risk of Ignoring

creating spheres of influence, measuring awareness

Traditional ROI isn’t the be-all and end-all – Twitter is free! [except for staff time]

Use Radiant6 to monitor buzz.

Facebook charges $300k for a brand page – Carnival elected not to spend this. Buying a YouTube channel can cost $500k plus media costs.

But you can get started for free.

If you’re going to lead social media [teams], you have to be doing it yourself.

Content creation is expensive.

How might employee culture affect the use of social media in older companies?

An interesting question, but, frustratingly, I didn’t note the answers. Maybe there weren’t any.

D’s Conclusions

A good and useful session, one of the few at SxSWi to address the needs of large companies and their employees.

I was very frustrated that Sun was not speaking on this panel, as we have one hell of a story to tell in this space.

And, even absent Sun’s support infrastructure for blogs, wikis, and video, I could have told them that there are cheaper ways to do this stuff than what Facebook and YouTube are charging for branded offerings.

SxSWi Report: Designing for the Wisdom of Crowds

NB: I have long wanted to attend SxSwi – where the cool geeks go to party – and this year had my first opportunity to do so, thanks to Sun. This conference is great bang for the buck: registration cost only $450, for four days of good, solid talks. I’ve been meaning for some time Read More…

NB: I have long wanted to attend SxSwi – where the cool geeks go to party – and this year had my first opportunity to do so, thanks to Sun. This conference is great bang for the buck: registration cost only $450, for four days of good, solid talks. I’ve been meaning for some time to write about sessions I attended and what I learned from them, but time keeps getting away from me. Here’s the first in a series. I hope the next will follow in reasonably short order – but I don’t guarantee that!

I attended Derek Powazek’s talk (slides), which was inspired by James Surowiecki‘s book The Wisdom of Crowds.

Why I attended this session: I work with communities, both online and off. And Powazek is a well-known name in web design, which has been part of my career, so this confluence of topics was irresistible to me.

From my notes:

Surowiecki’s premise is that the aggregate wisdom of “the crowd” can be greater than the wisdom of a single individual (no matter how expert).

According to Surowiecki, the elements of wise crowds are:

  • diversity
  • independence
  • decentralization
  • aggregation

Powazek gave suggestions on how to make the wisdom of the crowd work online:

  • give small, simple tasks (e.g., one-click vote on Hot or Not) – This works best when there is a definite outcome, e.g. a Threadless shirt design is chosen. A grass-roots news site gave a list of desired interviewees, participants then conducted the interview(s) of their choice via email
  • try to have a large, diverse group of participants – This is a sticky point. The Internet is inherently a place where it’s easy for people of all kinds to congregate (absent language barriers), but we still clump with people who mostly think like us. It takes effort to create a truly diverse crowd.
  • design for selfishness: participants have to get something out of it for themselves, even just a chance to win. The “greater good” is not sufficient motivation. (But personal glory can be.)
  • aggregate results so that individual behavior (e.g., tagging) leads to collective wisdom

(However, there’s the Heisenberg Problem: scoring creates a game, and therefore an incentive to cheat.)

Popularity does not have to rule. Amazon’s reviews/ratings are displayed with a histogram of results, and readers can rate each review (“was this helpful? yes/no”), giving feedback on the feedback.

Consider both implicit and explicit feedback.


  • page views
  • searches
  • rate of change
  • interestingness

Explicit = voting and rating, but never ask people to do more thinking than they have to, e.g. use a simple yes/no or thumbs up/thumbs down wherever possible.

Note, however, that you get better data when you don’t ask the question.

Design Matters

Kvetch.com -  The mood of responses became happier when the color scheme changed from dark to light.

Red vs. blue – In testing, people shown blue backgrounds responded with more imagination, while red backgrounds led to better attention to detail. This may occur because red is a danger sign, so people are primed to be more cautious when they see red, whereas blue is calming, so they feel freer to be creative.

(Sun’s corporate theme color is blue, Oracle’s is red. Uh oh.)

Filling in the Blanks

For me, this was the payoff from this talk. Powazek described a study on how people’s feelings of not being in control lead them to see patterns (e.g., conspiracies) where none exist.

He has also written about this in Meaning-Making Machines:

This is relevant online because we have much less input than in real-life social situations. Virtual communications like email, blog comments, and instant messages come without the associated social data our brains are used to. In the absence of context, our brains fill in the rest. What we fill it in with is a byproduct of our own insecurities.

My own thoughts on this:

If you’ve spent much time interacting with people online in email, forums, blogs and comments, you know how easy it is misunderstand someone’s character or intentions when you only know them through text.

Misunderstandings can occur because of differences in language, culture and writing skills, as well as the above-mentioned human propensity to fill in our mental gaps with worst-case assumptions. We are especially negative in our assumptions when we don’t feel in control in our own lives – and, these days, who does? The result is flame wars and other online unpleasantness that simply doesn’t happen in real life.

In my first distance-working experience, I also learned that it’s hard for human beings to work with someone they’ve never seen. I suspect that we don’t quite believe someone is real until we’ve seen them face-to-face. In my six years working from Italy for a Silicon Valley company, I noticed that colleagues were poor at responding to me until they’d met me once (I traveled to California four times a year), then their attitude would change radically. It wasn’t that I did anything particular on my visits to inspire cooperation; it was simply that they now could put a face to the emails and the voice on the phone. I guess that’s human.

Conversely, we can have warm feelings for people we’ve only seen on screens. I have twice now embarrassed myself meeting actors in unexpected contexts, the first at CES, and, more recently, at SxSWi itself: I was wandering the halls when I saw a familiar face. This wasn’t unexpected at SxSWi; videoblogging buds and other folks I know were there. So my brain registered “someone I know and like,” and I rushed up to greet her with an enthusiastic “Hi!” before my memory kicked in with: “You know her from Buffy and Dr. Horrible.” She was completely unfazed; I’m sure this happens a lot to actors.

All this is why I’ve encouraged the Sun teams I’ve filmed to shoot brief introductions of themselves to share online: if you’ve seen their faces and heard their voices in video, you’re more likely to treat them kindly when responding to their text (e.g. in an online forum). And it’s easier to feel a sense of community, kinship, and cooperation with people you’ve seen and heard, even if only via recorded video.

The next step is to get video from non-Sun members of our developer communities. Working on it!

Returning to Powazek, he concluded his talk with some examples of the above-mentioned principles in action, such as a crowd-curated photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

Rating: A great and useful talk. I should go read his books.