MastHead Ramana Rao's Home Page Ramana Rao's Blog Ramana Rao's Trails Ramana Rao's Sensemaking

Archive for the ‘Social Flow’ Category

Vox for the private, personal, and playful
Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Over the years of toyful blogging, I’ve resisted splitting the flow of this blog into separate blogs for the “personal”, other, and off-topic. Certainly, there has never been much more than a trickle to split, but it was also a sense that a percentage personal was an intrinsic and a goodness in this genre of conversational writing. However, it’s clear you shouldn’t let the air to fuel ratio get out of whack.   (more…)

Podcasts Juxtaposed: Slouching Toward the Era of Quality of Life
Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Over the last year, I’ve been slouching toward working podcasts into workouts and commutes. Albeit sporadically, perhaps only 10 podcasts in the year. This last week, I listened to two excellent Podcasts during runs. Rather than separating them, connecting them seems a poetic resolution. The first, by the highly-attuned how-we-live observer Linda Stone, records her Etech talk in March, a continuation of her Supernova 2005 talk. Linda portrays the shift of how we focus our attention across 20 year eras:

… at the same time as we celebrate these powerful technologies [we have], we feel increasingly powerless in our lives. Which is why, just as we made a shift from productivity—all about me—self-expression in 1965-1985 to connect, connect, connect and the network as the center of gravity from 1985-2005, we are on the edge of the next shift. And a new set of opportunities.

Linda contrasts multitasking and continuous partial attention (an ungainly term, perhaps scanning would do) as the two prevailing modes of attention control of the last two eras. She also paints committed full focus attention as the mode for the next era. This last mode strikes me as what flow and being here have always been about, and so not so much a new mode, but perhaps a return to the old before the fragmentation and distribution of the modern age. In any case, most of us engage in all three modes at different times, though our ages and stages, roles and types, phases and eras do affect the exact mixture.

She sets up her close with a 1996 Dee Hock quote that beautifully infuses the hierarchy of Data, Information, Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom (see bottom of transcript). Linda sees this next era as being about the opportunity of moving from knowledge to understanding and wisdom, and our attention on improving the quality of life. The following statement from her Supernova talk bridges well to the second podcast.

We long for a quality of life that comes in meaningful connections to friends, colleagues, family that we experience with full-focus attention on relationships

Anil Dash’s MeshForum talk in May, available as an ITConversations podcast (Lazy Request: a transcript of this podcast) focuses on Blogging as a social experience true to the above quote and as distinct from Blogging as publishing for the people. The two forms of blogging are reflected in the data and analysis of the LiveJournal and TypePad communities.

  • Maybe 10 percent of the people talking about a topic have the goal of talking to the whole world and of being a definitive resource in the topic area.

  • Typepad started out with a ratio of 40 readers to 1 writer 3 years ago. Now, it’s closer to 1000 to 1.

  • LiveJournal, formed in 1999, now with 10M users across 150 countries, several thousand more users than TypePad. It’s not just the diaries of teenage girls. Yes, mostly female, but mostly in the 18-24 range. The ratio of writers to readers has sustained at roughly 6 or 8 to 1, the highest common number roughly at 15 to 1 ratio.

  • Anil commented people don’t organically have more than about 150 connections (Dunbar number). As he says, people can connect for lots of reason, business, political, so on, but nobody has 1000 friends.

The qualitative account highlights a number of other ways that the LiveJournal experience is not exactly as often cast. Though it has been enormously influential with its feature, it’s flying below the radar of both media and publishing-like bloggers, means it’s been left alone, un-messed-up to reflect a broader social reality. It’s been a haven for people to communicate privately with friends and families, and groups of people with common interests, where privacy allows creating a common context for communication.

Anil talks great sense about the contrast between what people actually write about, and say a thou-model of what is proper public writing. He points out that LiveJournal and MySpace often get denigrated, but these environments reflect what people care about. Gossip, for example, not about celebrities but the interpersonal news and real stories of friends. Anil commented that over 100k people check their LiveJournal page 4, 6, or more times a day reflecting their deep need for connecting.

One amusing comparision Anil makes is of LiveJournal to the public letters of the American Founding Fathers (hmm, this feels familiar). Apparantly, these Founders wrote much about politics, weather, and gossip, with the same spirit and understanding as blogging, as a record of my life in a public space. Point made, but it might not be such a good idea to push this analogy too far, since surely Founding Fathers would be much more concerned about their place in history i.e. their broad audiences in the future.

Publishing bloggers, even as they drop some formality, would tend to preserve a professional stance and focus on their subject matter, whereas social bloggers would be focused on experience sharing and thus more concerned about privacy and personal control. Some set of long-term bloggers that have sustained quality and versatility (Anil being a prime example) develop extremely nuanced blogging practices that travel the continuum between content and sociality, between sharing experience and sensemaking, linking and thinking, and so on. Anil has a nice explanation of why many such bloggers burn out on blogging, sign off, and eventually return. It’s partly about this missing safe space. Perhaps the better analogy to the Founding Fathers is this class of bloggers.

Anil’s contrast between publishing and social styles of blogging bridges nicely to Linda’s coming era. Though surely there is some me, me, me in the LiveJournal/MySpace/YouTube stories, perhaps as Anil substantiates, these social spaces really are about shifting from scanning for opportunities and connecting through the network to discerning opportunities and a focus on quality of life.


  • Perhaps my sporadic Podcast listening is cured. A big contributor, at least in theory, was a reluctance to fall into the iPod well and an ekeing it out with a high-friction Rio Nitrus and Windows clients. It’s working enough now, so we’ll see if it’s really about the high-friction life.

  • The [MeshForum][] tagline of connecting networks connects nicely to another element of Linda’s shift from me and the rest of the world network to a more manageable life in a network of interconnected communities.

  • Anil’s formal talk part is only 15 minutes of the 35 minute podcast. Wow, Kudos, especially since the rest is well-storied responses to interesting questions. A number of these are worth connecting or commenting on separately, … we’ll see if I get there.

  • I think I’m safe in using first names, but I do wonder whether even as informal and social as this medium is supposed to be whether it reads wrong to some. If so, i offer reciprocity: use my first name. If you want retribution instead, go ahead and misspel or mis’ay my first name, I’m happy to let people buy the vowels.