Friday, September 08, 2006

Actually, the "new Facebook" debate IS interesting.

(cross-posted at polyglot conspiracy. Sorry, I'm low on material right now over there!)

I haven't had as much time this week as I'd have preferred to pay attention to the whole Facebook privacy uproar over the new News Feed features (for a summary of some other people's opinions though, and links galore, see the Assn. of Internet Researchers' listserv archives from this week). There's lots of points of interest in this story - like how hundreds of thousands of students allegedly signed an official petition for the revision of the features (which just happened today), demonstrating that yes, today's youth DO get riled up enough to take social action on "issues," but those issues might be utterly devoid of ultimate social significance in most adults' opinions (dare I claim). Or like how social software designers don't often enough take social scientific principles or research into account when creating their sites; if they did, they might have a better feel for what their audience wants. Or like how 30 people yesterday unwittingly discovered that I was currently "raising and lowering my glottis."

But something that's gotten me excited the past couple of days is to learn about the names of all the Facebook groups that people have been coming up with in support or protest of the site change. That is, the main means of mobilization in this argument is through the system itself (an interesting point, as someone on the AoIR list astutely brought up, that the very thing people are protesting against provides them with the means to protest it!) in the formation of new system-internal groups people created and joined. Aside from the rather dully titled main petition group (Students against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)), the groups have names like
Stop Right There, Facebook!
The New Facebook Sucks Long and Hard
The New Facebook Makes Me a Better Stalker
AAAA! Facebook is Stalking Me!!!
AAAH! Facebook is now more Stalk-tastic than ever!
Death to the "new" Facebook
Fuck Facebook's New Features
Dear Facebook, Please Chill out. (U-M Chapter)
The New FaceLift for FaceBook is slightly Creepy
If you hate the new facebook, say I!
I want old school facebook back!
Actually, I like the Facebook News Feed
Actually, I'd say that i'm rather pleased with the new facebook
Actually...I kinda like the new Facebook.
actually, i kind of like the new facebook.
Actually, I like the "new" facebook
Actually, I LOVE the New Facebook
Actually, I'm cool with the New Facebook
Actually, I'm not that offended by the new Facebook
Actually, I've Grown Accustomed to the New Facebook
Actually the New Facebook Doesn't Really Bother Me
Actually....we kinda like the new facebook
I love me some Facebook News Feed
New Facebook Feeds Makes it Harder for Me to Be a Ninja

OK. It may be obvious that most intriguing to me here are the groups listed in the middle, which all start with "actually." At first I was just loving the fact that these groups were taking on a conversational positioning, such that groups are responding to other groups, in direct dialogue. This fits right in line with the tendency of people to use testimonials, comments, or walls to make conversational threads (Facebook's "wall-to-wall" feature illustrates this beautifully) rather than to leave static, one-time commentary, which is presumably the designated function of the testimonials etc. in the first place. So there's this demonstration that people really want to use these sites for interaction and conversation, whether it's on the directly interpersonal level or the group level, where you in essence let the groups interact for you, without any one person's direct involvement, other than creating the group or joining it. But it's different kind of conversation than I think has been pointed to by most internet research, and I'm not sure we have a clear way to categorize it.

[Note: the names themselves are really conversational too, and it's interesting that "group" isn't any kind of official "group" like we think of. Rather, its creation and dissemination is really a form of conversation. You can see this in the use of the first person pronoun in most of them. Hang on to this; I'll hopefully come back to it someday.]

Then as I was browsing through more groups, I realized that this "actually" only came up when I searched globally through groups. The groups for Michigan's and Virginia's networks (which I'm in) didn't have them. And, the first few on the list up there are from Michigan, while the last two are from Virginia. There's something to be done here on how different regions, campuses, communities use groups as part of their online interaction, and the language they use for it. Is the "I love me some" used more in Charlottesville than Ann Arbor? Are Wolverines more likely to use -tastic productively than Cavaliers? Do Southerners punctuate more than Northerners? I realize that group names are a far, far cry from "everyday" language or writing, and that looking at online systems automatically excludes a whole bunch of people who aren't on them or don't use them much. Still, it seems that if you wanted to get a feel for how folks around a particular campus might talk, slang they might use, and topics that might come up in the dining hall, groups might be a decent place to get primed.

Just for fun, here are some other interesting group names. God love those clever undergrads.
I am In Too Many Fucking Facebook Groups But One More Won't Hurt
I Pretend To Do Facebook Strictly For Satirical Purposes.
Coalition To Stop these Stupid Mutha F*ckas From Makn Stupid ass Facebook Groups's
Actually,i don't have the time to be a facebook whore because i have a LIFE
drunk facebooking is the new drunk dialing

And speaking of conflict, David Crystal has come out with a directly anti-Trussian (I can't even believe I just entered her into the canon of authors who get to have -ian after their names) book (via the Log). Let the new linguistics wars begin? (Of course, Truss is playing grammarian-slash-social critic, so it's not really a war about linguistics, and it's not a war within linguistics at all. It's something more like a standards war, perhaps.)

I just finished reading through my several days' backlog of AOIR list digest from the Facebook fiasco. Fascinating stuff! A few thoughts here...

On the groups and their conversations, this type of social organization and interaction challenges previous understandings of group. In the literature, group communication usually stops at somewhere between 20-25 people (exact limits vary); much beyond that and group scholars will cede authority and you will be in the realm of public communication; if the context is mediated (in the pre-Internet age) you would have yourself an audience. Well those conceptions don't work so well anymore, and especially not for social networking sites. So are these groups really "groups?" Probably not, but what are they? Publics, maybe, especially as these specific ones were builkt for (nominal) activism. Communities? Possibly. I think the ease of gathering very large numbers of people who share some common bond/interest on the Internet together for some action (conversation, protest, etc.) is most commonly (maybe best, maybe not) represented by "community," although this is certainly also a slippery and contested term. I suspect we need a better one, but I don't have a candidate as yet.

The conversations look to me to be really meta-conversations, started when one person comes up with a clever name for a group, then someone else essentially comments on that name by starting another group. You can add to the meta-conversation by either starting a new group or by joining an existing one, thereby ratifying that comment (and presumably the underlying sentiment). As far as communication, again, this is so radical a departure from traditional ideas of mass/interpersonal/group/etc. communication. One very new idea, proposed by Patrick O'Sullivan, is "masspersonal communication," which he is developing specifically in response to the kinds of interactions made possible by new technologies. He is trying to bridge the traditional divide between mass comm and interpersonal, but describing how people can use mass technologies (i.e. Facebook reaches millions of people) for traditionally interpersonal kinds of communication (social chat, self-disclosure, etc.) and vice versa. There's more to his proposal, which you can read here: O'Sullivan, P.B. (2005). Masspersonal Communication: Rethinking the
Mass-Interpersonal Divide. Conference Papers -- International Communication Association, 2005 Annual Meeting, New York, NY.

Ok, thish was waay longer than I intended, I should stop for now ;-)
having just gotten the crystal-guardian link elsewhere, i remembered i saw it here first. i like that there is a war occurring on the standards of punctuation. and i like this quote from the article:

Take the example we always use on both sides of the debate: the apostrophe. It is either right or wrong. We wouldn't accept something being wrong in any other walk of life, would we?'

and for the record, i love that quotation marks have come to be used as markers of emphasis on signs and advertisements, i.e. “very” cheap!

i'm having a love affair with punctuation.
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