Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaguer Interactivity Day: Paths toward madness

We live in a world that's far too complicated for our little monkey brains to handle. I recall reading a story by Ray Bradbury when I was a kid where people's brains essentially started filling up from too much input, and their minds would lock up and sort of start the little Mac Wheel spinning. It became problematic if they were speaking when this happened, as they would keep repeating the last few words they'd said.

I honestly believed this, and everything else Ray Bradbury talked about (and I read Farenheit 451 over and over) were all going to happen.

But thanks to one thing Bradbury totally didn't foresee, the internet, I kind of think its going to not be one thing that drives us all mad. It's going to be a million little pinpricks as we're all able to put ourselves out there and we can't avoid the endless chatter.

So what sort of stuff am I talking about? Let us ponder The Calvin & Hobbes Comment Section.

I make jokes about comment sections on comic websites, mostly because I think they really, really deserve it. But that's just a heavy mix of partisanship in comics and a lot of nerd grandstanding.

But in that vein... Like many, I enjoy the Bill Watterson strip "Calvin and Hobbes". As I enjoy a little diversion in my day, I've also book marked the strip online. Yes, the page design is ridiculous, messy and ad-filled, but that's not the issue.

I cannot NOT read the comment section. Which feels as if its written by the lobotomized and insane.

Every day its like that. Every. Single. Day. There's some weird internet hobo community that seems to live on the comment section of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, just making nonsense noise at one another. And I cannot look away.

Here is a small, small sample:
Ivy0730Lcsq said, about 20 hours ago

Sussie’s so sick of Clavin’s creepy lunch and stuff…lol

Rakkav said,

Calvin and Hobbes’ club G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) would be countered by Susie’s club G.L.O.B.S. (Get Lost Onery BoyS).


grazer said, about 20 hours ago

Don’t be such a spoil sport, Susie—a squished toad can’t hurt anybody.

phfear said, about 19 hours ago

every time i read this strip, i always wonder what was in his hands, well that can be the 7th wonder of the world, or the 8th, whichever comes next

jelzap said, about 15 hours ago

no one in their right mind would guess…..but i guess i would…. c’mon susie whyy you ruining Calvins discovery

I have no idea why this drives me mad. It simply does.

Other Examples of That Which Will Surely Drive us Mad Include:

YouTube comment sections

This blog (some guy I never met sent this to me. It is his.)

MySpace pages with elaborate background themes

People who actually blog on MySpace


poorly thought out articles about how articles about how "universities are doomed in the internet age"*

comic nerds going ballistic over a single, context-free image
from a superhero movie and declaring the movie a failure

So what is going to eventually drive you insane from the internet?

*post topic for this weekend


Michael Corley said...

Internet induced meaness.

Of course, that applies to a lot of what you just said.

In my profession (the one I get paid the most for) there is a site called CafePharma where pharma reps yell at each other 24/7 and delight in the slightest misfortune of others.

It's bad enough to be a dick. But to be a dick only because you don't think anyone can see your face... feh.

rhpt said...

That dude you linked? HIs name is RANDY. Maybe he's the guy you're actually talking about when you mention 'Randy'.

Here's a photo of the man:

And why you be dissin' Twitter?

The League said...

I know that dude's name is Randy. I wrote this paragraph back about how insane he was, and then happened to look at the e-mail address before hitting send and realized it wasn't from you, it was from the Randy of the blog.

I still get sorta creeped out that he e-mailed me out of the blue with his blog.

I do believe Twitter has good informational/ public broadcast uses, and its drifting more that way. But that doesn't mean that personal use of Twitter isn't largely 90% spam. How about a good defense of Twitter in 140 characters or less?

J.S. said...

Twitter is for people who like to talk but have little to say. Come to think of it, why am I not using that thing?

The League said...

yeah, its entirely hypocritical for me to bag on twitter. Look at this stupid website.

NTT said...

My defense of Twitter in 140 characters or less, in haiku:

Things are good and bad
Almost all Blogs are crap too
Twitter is the same.

People bag on Twitter because they have no use for it. That doesn't mean it's not a powerful tool for communication or a powerful engine for organization. It's just that most folks have no idea how to use it so it gets bagged for the sheer banality of posts that are generated.


Personal defense: I don't use Twitter that much. However, even I can see the enormous advantage Twitter provides compared to Blogs, Facebook, etc. which are other avenues of status communication.

Essentially Twitter can be harnessed 2 powerful ways:

1. As a real time Narrow cast for the organization of masses of people instantly. Your followers can "tune" into a "hash" channel (for example #League of Melbotis) and you can give immediate instructions or alerts instantly across thousands of people. This is incredible for flash mobs, community building or just meeting for a drink. Facebook and blogs are too slow.

You can immediately alert someone of your status in an emergency. There's a story where an Egyptian blogger twittered that he was arrested instantly and hauled into jail so that his defenders can mobilize to get him out. He did it through a key strokes on his cell phone. Facebook would have been way too cumbersome for that.

2. You can instantly join a community or provide feedback similar to an IRC channel by virute of the search function or the hash marks of key phrases. I'm part of the Chuck Me viewing party every Monday night where thousands of people converse in real time while watching an episode of Chuck at the same time. It's better than a message board as it feels like a conversation roundtable. Yet, you can leave or narrow the conversation the way you want.

So, yes most of Twitter is sheer banality and stupidity. But it is a remarkable tool for communication.

J.S. said...

I think part of the thing that I resent about Twitter is that I just don't want to be expected to monitor incoming messgaes from people 24/7 through my computer, or especially my handheld device, especially when the messages are coming in through a mass broadcasting medium- getting one on one personal messages is one thing, but I foresee a day where every member of every group of people that I'm a part of is going to be constantly Twittering to provide updates of "meaningful" info, and most of that info won't even be all that helpful in the first place, but I'll be expected to keep up with the feeds, constantly reading through them to find the small bits of info that are pertinent and/or interesting to me (this is especially disconcerting to think about when I think about Twitter systems in the workplace- 80% of the work related emails that I already get aren't really relevant to me). I'm sorry, but I like my life to be compartmentalized and I kind of like to focus on what I'm actually doing at a given moment. Twitter may have some practical uses, but they come at the cost of living a life of distraction where people really aren't paying attention to what they're actually doing in their actual lives moment. I've been avoiding buying a smart phone for these same reasons. Email and IMs are already distracting enough when I'm at work and I keep getting alerts- I don't want to be constantly expected to keep up with these things in my free time or when I'm engaged with other things at work (especially knowing that a good portion of the messages that I receive will basically be spam for all practical purposes). Monitoring all of this stuff doesn't make me feel more efficient- it just makes it harder to concentrate and contributes to a society full of people with extremely short attention spans. And I know that I'm a blogger, so people will take this with a grain of salt, but I really do think comparing Twitter and blogs is comparing apples to oranges. I don't tap people on the shoulder every ten minutes and ask them to read my blog. Come to think of it, I don't ask people to read my blog at all. The potential applications for Twitter are much more insidious.

The League said...

I actually agree with much of what NTT says, by the way, but...

My Twitter experience has been less than useful. This may be that I am comfortable relying on my current models of receiving information, and/or how I engage in the communication cycle.

Ex: this may be a shocker, but I didn't need to know what Apple's newest products were the exact second they were unveiled at WWDC. Like others, I did want to know, but, you know, an article that evening was fine.

But for coordinating on the fly organization events? Absolutely. Alerting people to anything from "free pizza day!" to "Run! Tornadoes!", has the potential to be very useful.

I'm not completely sold that its that much more effective than other forms on one to many communication (it requires you already be ready to sit and accept Tweets - my TV stops what its doing to tell me to run for my life). But if its the manner in which people are receiving their communications, then its a necessary step to use that channel.

Only, 95% of the time, the useful stuff wasn't what I was seeing on Twitter before I tweeted away.

I should mention, the sort of applications NTT describes are how we're looking to integrate Twitter into our organization and from my office at work. It's how UT is looking to communicate out to students, etc...

What I dread is the faculty who decides he's teaching by Twitter, or supplementing his lectures with Twitter (when raising a hand will do, thanks) because they feel they need to appear cutting edge (ignoring the already dozens of Go2meeting-like tools that would make more sense, anyway).

Part of it is us figuring out what is and is not good etiquette, just as we did with cell phones. And thanks to the massive adoption of Twitter, that's happening.

Full disclosure: I am also not comfortable with the iPhone culture and expectations for both sending and receiving communication 24/7 (and the tendency to use it just because its there seems to be what causes the noise). When I see Senators trying to appear hip by Twittering the State of the Union, I want to slap the damn iPhone out of their hand and require that they at least pretend to pay attention rather than thinking about what they want to say about what they're hearing and seeing. Its a tool that already is disruptive, with the added challenge of the immediacy of Twitter and the imagined power of the Tweet suggesting expediency should supercede all else.

NTT said...

The thing about Twitter is that you can actually ignore it. It's not the paradigm shifting application that email is. You'll be just fine not using Twitter because any organization worth its salt knows that the vast majority of people are not on Twitter. It will never replace email or phone. Just like blogs.

Like I said, I don't use Twitter very much except for entertainment purposes. I never use instant messaging ever since ICQ was pushed out of use by MSN and Yahoo. It's a tool for communication that can be utilized the way you want it.

The League said...

Totally know what you mean. I have no doubt "blogs" and "tweets" are about as exciting to much of the population as a root canal.

I DO believe that a better interface or better designed mode of Twitter is going to come along and become some kind of norm (perhaps within another Google app, like gmail, etc...). But people's expectations around how its used will have to change for it to be successful.

rhpt said...

There are twitter clients that let you manage the "noise" to a very manageable degree, so that you're only listening to the handful of people you actually want to hear from.

Twitter is good at breaking news. When the plane landed on the Hudson, Twitter users had better photos/videos and reports than the news-outlets at the onset. It's also good at keeping track of large amounts of people (say at a conference).

The League said...

I think my question when I hear the first point is "why would I be following those guys to begin with?"

And, yeah, I get that immediacy thing of Twitter. I mentioned that above. But I'm not really sure I want to follow every human alive so I can maybe get a good photo I'm probably getting, anyway, in an hour or so.

As someone who does have to worry about a conference and archiving, I think the last thing I would want to use to archive a conference is Twitter (I want neither questions or answers limited to 140 characters). However, next year we are going to try to live stream and archive.

J.S. said...

You can actually ignore Twitter now, but I'm afraid that once it's adopted more fully at work, I'm going to getr a constant dtream of Twitter feeds from everyone associated with Travis County, only 5-10% of the Tweets will actually be relevant to me, but I'll have to keep up with the Tweets while looking for the ones that are actually pertinent to me. This already happens with email, but at least I'm not expected to keep up with it constantly and be constantly monitoring it (no matter where I am or wwhat I'm doing). I look forward to a day when I'm having lunch with friends, but receive 10 Tweets during my meal. The first 9 Tweets will have messages about County baseball tournaments and other useless crap, so I will ignore the tenth Tweet which will, of course, be the one telling me that I'm expected to be back early from lunch for an important emergency meeting. Saying I didn't read the Tweet will be an unacceptable excuse because once Twittering has become "the norm" I will have been expected to read all of the County Tweets, including the posts about the softball tournament, retirement parties, and happy hour for some supervisor's birthday (and the people organizing stuff for their boss's birthday always think that stuff should be a priority for everyone. Even though I could care less most of the time.). I know that people will just say that there should be a differentiation in Twittering between critical and non-critical messages, but our email system has already shown that many of our employees are unable to make that distinction (or, more correctly, they think that anything they're involved with is automatically important), and I'll have to be a follower of these people for those one in 20 or 30 times they actually do have something relevant to tell me. Since people on our county system have already shown an inablility to cut down on "noise" in terms of email, I predict the same problem on Twitter (and to a certain degree, I think this same problem holds true in terms of non-work related social Twittering- I could care less about a good portion of the stuff on my Facebook feed. I certainly don't need to be alerted about most of those things when I'm in the middle of other activities). Those Tweets are going to be REALLY fun when I'm in court and the bosses keep sending messages and expect you to check them constantly (which, yes, they will do- they already send text messages and make cell phone call when I'm in court and trying to do five other things).

The League said...

Dude, I work at a place that sends out e-mail all day long about stuff like "Send your kid to RTF camp!" all day long. I am totally onboard with that.

Nathan said...

Here's the deal about Twitter for me. I use it as part of my work. I connect with people that are following updates not really about me, but about movies, and NPR and movies, etc. My handle is TPRCinema.

I post about our summer film series, cool San Antonio and Texas film news, etc.

I follow only those persons or organizations that I feel would help me with important information. NPR, Variety, The Digital Bits, etc.

Twitter has been a useful tool, in my opinion. I turn it on when I want, using either my phone, or logging on at work. The messages do not bombard me, because I'm not subscribed to a personal feed from someone.

As Ryan says, 90% of Twitter is junk, but I do get use out of it, and I believe others do, too. So quit yer moanin'! :)

The League said...

Fair enough. And, honestly, its my hope that something comes along that manages "Tweets" better than today's Twitter so the kind of stuff you're talking about is a bit easier to wade through.

I love it when a Leaguer Interactivity Day actually gets people talking.

J.S. said...

Hey, I'm fine with other people using Twitter and enjoying the heck out of it, just so long as I'm not required to use it for work or whatever. When they make me start using it, though, I will round up a groupo of anti-Twitter resistance movement to take down the entire Twitter system. If you guys want to happily enslave youselves to the Twitter overlords, more power to you. Just don't drag me along. That's all I'm asking.

rhpt said...

There are Twitter apps that will let you group your tweeple. You can put all your work folks in one group, friends in another group, spammers in another group, etc. So you can then freely ignore everyone but the work folks. There is probably even a way for the app to NOT notify you when the twit isn't from a work person.

rhpt said...

I'd love to know what you guys think of Twitter's role in the Iranian situation.

The League said...

Well, honestly, I hadn't heard too much about Twitter's role. But, you know, it's a tool. I assume people are using it to spread information.

Honestly, I think if anyone is reporting that Twitter is somehow the story, and that it would have been impossible for folks to organize without Twitter or share information without Twitter, needs to get their heads checked. Not to mention confusing a worthwhile signal in Twitter with the 90% noise ratio.

Its a tool, and that's great. But I think its a bit like assuming telegraph was the story during Lincoln's election.

I also agree with commentary regarding that the Tweets paint only a part of the picture, and probably don't represent the populace very well.

NTT said...

I seriously think your analogy is flawed. Twitter is much more ubiquitous than the telegraph and the whole point is that critical organizational information is being routed in real time to thousands of opposition supporters and the western media. Twitter, like I said, it very well designed for narrow casting and flash mobs. When the SMS network was mysteriously offline, Twitter took up the slack. It's much harder to block the entire nation's internet because the prevailing govt. needs the internet also and with proxies, you can outwit filters for communication.

The League said...

Well, I do see the point you're making. BUT... 2 things.

A) The addition of the telegraph was absolutely a huge technological innovation. We weren't relying on word of mouth anymore, or distribution of print. Nobody here needs a history lesson, but if we're comparing rapidity of communication (which Twitter enables, as well as bypassing gov't filters), then I'm sticking by my invalid analogy. If we're talking lines of communication, then I'd point to cut telegraph cables, etc... throughout the war. But it certainly had a hand in grouping people, right up to the millions who were able to line the path of Lincoln's funeral train.

B) The medium is not the message. I've not seen folks have a hard time finding ways to spread information in dense urban areas in my lifetime. I'm not saying twitter didn't play a role, but that calling a riot a "flash mob" doesn't make it any different from the crowds in the Ukraine around '04 during that election. Yes, it works well. So did e-mail, websites, radio, etc... not to mention a little pre-planned coordination.

This all gets back to the question of HOW the tool is used, not the tool itself. I think what Jason and I are arguing is that there's a lot of noise to signal. I'm not diminishing the use of Twitter in this crisis period, but jumping on twitter as the story sounds like typical US journalism trying to find an angle to the US audience that could basically care less about Iranian elections (and sort of underhandedly supports the opposition).

Its a neat story, but it isn't the story.

J.S. said...

On Iran: our country has no embassies or state department officials or any other experienced, trained personnel on the ground to talk to sources, monitor the situation, and/ or report back with realtime intelligence (mostly because we helped create the situation that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979, so they kicked us out- of course, we haven't been very good about trying to normalize relations, either). So now we have a country on the brink of revolutionary chaos with ballistic missiles and a very active nuclear program, and we're getting most of our intelligence data regarding the situation through Twitter? I know the Twitter thing makes a cute media story , but no, I really don't find the whole thing very comforting.

NTT said...

Well, I think we're all talking circles around each other. So let's clarify:

1. Rhpt asks what do we think of Twitter's role in the Iranian situation?

The League says it isn't the story. Well, yes, the story is the fomenting revolution and potential for civil war, plus the future of a hugely influential Middle Eastern power.

But if the question is has Twitter played an influence in the organization of the opposition, well I'd say yes it has, much more powerfully than email. With the shutdown of the SMS network, because Twitter has definitely provided a tactical communications platform that is very hard to suppress. Unless the Iranian govt. shuts down every router in the country's network, Twitter can still be up and running unlike other communications channels. It also is available on a variety of devices with which to send communications, something that not's available to many dependant on something like the telegraph.

So while I'm not going to say that Twitter or Facebook had any role to play to causing the momentous events occurring right now in Iran, Twitter has leveled the playing field in the propoganda and communications war. It has allowed the opposition to add another axis to be dealt with. It also has provided information to the outside world that can't be denied or suppressed. So I would say the analysis is more about how the Internet is being utilized by various channels that, due to the distributed packet-switched nature of communication, obviates the normal tactics of suppression. That is something that can be studied and analyzed, and therefore be a "story" among stories.

2. I seriously doubt that the NSA, CIA and the State Department is relying on Twitter for its first line information considering how we have confirmed the existence of both Echelon and Carnivore, plus the numerous satellite and reconaissance resources afforded by the intelligence community.

Second, your critique of Twitter is that a) the overwhelming amount of signal to noise is hugely inefficient, and b) that information is unreliable, you find that Twitter doesn't give much comfort.

Yet, in national and international emergencies, given the level of incorrect information by legitimate news sources in the situations such as the Asian Tsunami how are those "traditional" channels better? From what I've seen, the level of "correct" information from Twitter or some news channel in the early moments of a catastrophe are not that much categorically better.

In the end I think we're all in agreement with the limitations of Twitter and no one is evangelizing it. Yet the role the Internet is playing, with Twitter being a tool, is going to be more important as it is a new axis of proganda and communication that is not addressed by the normal tactics.

J.S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.S. said...

I hear most of that. Mostly disagree that Twitter is efficient as even our flawed news organizations, though, and given the recent history of our intelligence organizations (the WMD fiasco and our inability to catch Bin Laden spring to mind) I still think that, yeah, sad as it may be, we're probably stuck getting a lot of info off of Twitter. And just too may false reports in the current type of situation on that thing, I would think.
Different note- I think Twitter will become intesely popular, and that's part of why I fear it. I think it will become such a norm that the expectation of its use will make it hard for people to opt out (even when they'd rather not be involved).
And then we'll all be Twitter monkeys. And eventually Twitter will be used to make us eat each other's brains.
The horror.

The League said...

I'm not saying we've taken one word from the post and beat it to death, but...

we've taken one word from the post and beat it to death.