FriendFeed, trainwrecks and accelerated discussions

Despite the ambitious title, this is purely some early thoughts (that might eventually lead to a Cites & Insights piece–or a column elsewhere–but “eventually” probably means “next year sometime”). (Read on: I have a question at the end.)

Just this week, I’ve seen three very long FriendFeed threads (participating in one of them) that struck me as particularly interesting in terms of implications for issues, reputations and connections. In two of the cases, my own feelings about specific people changed significantly over the course of the discussions; in one, my existing feelings about a category of people strengthened. In all three, the sheer acceleration of FriendFeed threads (and hashtagged Twitter posts, I guess–but I don’t currently use Twitter) strikes me as both refreshing and a little disorienting. I’d use the word “dangerous,” but I think the only real danger is to complacency and artificial reputation, and that’s OK by me.

(Yes, it’s going to be Another Rambling Crawford Post. I don’t have time to hone it down to 450 or 800 well-chosen words; I want to get back to working on But Still They Blog, now that I’ve finished the draft for one humongous Making it Work essay for the December C&I.)

On one hand: OMG! FF’s Dead!

Let’s take the silliest one first–or at least silly to me. Facebook purchased FriendFeed. That’s probably resulted in tens of thousands of messages on FF and elsewhere, including some panicky threads from people and groups who’ve come to rely on FF for their community of interest and fear that FB will shut it down and they’ll have to move elsewhere. I’m not really addressing that particular kerfuffle. (I’ll suggest that if you really depend on a sustained and sustainable community of interest, “you get what you pay for” continues to be a relevant saying, but I’ll let it go at that.)

Nope, I’m addressing the secondary kerfuffle, mostly among Hot Tech Types and Hot Social Marketing Types, after some of the FF people now employed by FB made it clear that FB has no intention of shutting down FF–but, at least implicitly, that new-feature development for FF may not be speedy.

Some people found this reassuring. OK, I found it reassuring: I’m finding FF to be worthwhile as a set of overlapping communities of interest and, with Pause always firmly in place, a social medium that I can handle via occasional visits. I really don’t much care whether any new features are added to FF (I don’t use some of the existing ones); I want it to be fast, stable, and not so popular that I spend all my time finding new categories to Hide.

Personal case: On FF, I currently have 100 subscriptions–geez, how did it get so high, when I thought it was still 77–and 131 subscribers, including 62 that I don’t subscribe to. I can keep up with that, probably spending half an hour to 45 minutes a day on two split across two or three sessions. On FaceBook, where I’m much less active, I have 199 “friends,” a necessarily reciprocal arrangement–and there’s no way I can keep up with the wall in the 10-15 minutes a day I’m willing to devote to it, so I really only look at my family list of 8-10 and a “libclose” list of a couple dozen. I don’t use FB for professional issues at all; I do use FF for that.

Then there were the others–for whom not having rapid development of new features is equivalent to being dead. One social marketing hotshot said he couldn’t be bothered to “develop his network” (which I read as “getting followers for My Brand,” perhaps inappropriately) on a system that wasn’t busy adding new glitzfeatures, and would probably go elsewhere. To which I can only say: Good. For some of us, the point of social networking is social networking and communities of interest–not personal marketing and branding.

In this case, the effect of the accelerated discussion–“accelerated” over what you’d find on a blog (unless it’s something like John Scalzi’s Whatever) or a list–was to verify impressions I already had about many A-listers. Would you turn away from a Craftsman hammer because Sears hasn’t added rhinestones to it or, in fact, changed the design in years? Probably not–but some people don’t see online tools that way.

On the other hand: The trainwreck

There’s this special organization that includes a bunch of librarians and a bunch of other people. And there’s a move afoot to change the name of the organization. It’s a change that, to some librarians, seems to devalue librarian, to other folks seems high-handed and to still others as a great move…away from that dusty old “L” word to a series of buzz words that people supposedly respect more. I won’t say more about the specific organization or change, since it’s not my battle. What I have seen, though:

  • On one of the association’s apparently-official blogs, the word “hater” was used to refer to those who opposed the name change.
  • Apparently, one of the Great Organizational Gurus and frequent speakers sent out email that basically labeled name-change opponents as unprofessional.
  • Twitter and FriendFeed had (and, I suspect, continue to have) lots of comments–mostly opposed. A number of people were really unhappy about the tone of some of the pro-change stuff (see the first two bullets).
  • Some pro-name-change folks seemed to feel that it’s OK for a pro-change bigshot to dismiss opponents as unprofessional, but not OK for opponents to say bad things about the bigshot.

Again, this isn’t my battle. I already left one association around the time a president said that one of its problems was having too many librarians (a different association, one that never did use the L-word), so I’m used to seeing librarians derided by people who should know better. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, even as a non-librarian.

In this case, the acceleration and ease of threading has exposed some issues that were probably bubbling beneath the surface; this is all to the good (I believe) but certainly makes some people uncomfortable. (Could LITA actually pass a dues increase without a member ballot in 2009? I suspect–and hope–not, but back when the Board of Directors took what I felt was high-handed action, there was no good way to get fast, broad responses. Things have indeed changed.)

I believe this particular controversy has damaged the reputations of a few folks. I know it’s clarified my feelings in one case (but not fundamentally changed them) and slightly lowered my estimation in a couple of other cases (where I admired people but without much specific knowledge). And I believe that wouldn’t have happened without the relatively transparent acceleration of the medium.

On the gripping hand: Rockstars!

[Credit to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for this particular version of a third hand.]

Leaving out some details here because I’m too lazy to go look it up, someone posted a (Twitter?) comment to FF having to do with librarians being, or not being, rockstars in their community…and being a little snarky about the comment. A fast and varied discussion ensued, bringing in the author of the comment and many others–and included a bunch of stuff about whether “rockstar status” is either desirable, is something that every librarian should aspire to, and the like.

But this discussion was far from a trainwreck. David Lee King, who I believe made the Twitter comment, engaged in the discussion in an open manner, even recognizing that the term might not be appropriate in general. Within a day or so, and more than 150 comments, things moved from a terminological dispute to a serious discussion of whether and to what extent all librarians need to be public figures–and, in fact, the difference between doing your job (but avoiding attention) and being complacent and in a rut.

Yes, the conversation got edgy at times–and I don’t believe everybody arrived at a common understanding or agreement. Nor do I think that’s a necessary or always desirable outcome of a conversation. I do believe most of us understood more about what others were trying to say, and why.

In this case, I think a trainwreck may have been avoided–and I do remember a vaguely similar situation, on a blog, that did turn into somewhat of a trainwreck over time. I’m not sure whether the shorter messages required by FriendFeed made the difference, or whether it was simple acceleration, or whether people were simply more off-the-cuff and open in this environment. Maybe a combination; maybe something else.

In this case, I’ll be specific: While I suspect my attitudes about David Lee King and Joshua Neff will always be complicated, this particular thread makes me regard both of them considerably more positively. Doesn’t mean I won’t shoot the sheriff (metaphorically–don’t call the FBI!) if the need arises; doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of DLK. But all in all, I found it an encouraging conversation. (I just read through it again. I still do.) (And, just as a note, Steve L. didn’t gain in my estimation from this discussion mostly because he already ranks pretty high. Ditto John D., who managed to connect the two threads. Ditto Jenica. And others I won’t mention.)

Geez, Walt, 1500 words and still no point?

Well, I said it was a ramble–one that might, eventually, become a thinkpiece, but not on this blog and not this month. I think something is happening here, something interesting, and while I may not know exactly what it is, I’m getting little points of light around the edges. I’m not giving up blogs or ejournals (or lists or email…), and I’m still not sure Twitter would work for me (tried it, didn’t like it, might someday try it again, might not) but the nature of FF as a high-speed conversational tool for communities of interest is intriguing.

But let’s get to a sort-of point, one that raises a question:

  • It’s possible that FF (and Twitter and maybe even FB) yield more honest conversations because we perceive them as being more ephemeral than blog comments and email posts and…
  • If so–if you’re more open and honest there because you don’t think it’s as much a part of Your Permanent Record (down there a few pages past the time you snickered at your first-grade teacher)–then it may be inappropriate for people like me to snatch up whole chunks of FF threads (or Twitter hashtag search results) and use them within commentary articles, the way we (I) use blog posts and the comments on those posts.

The question:

Do you think it’s inappropriate or undesirable for your FriendFeed comments to be used in secondary discussions in the same way your blog posts and comments might be?

Comments–here or on FriendFeed? (I’ll post that question as a separate FF comment as well.)

6 Responses to “FriendFeed, trainwrecks and accelerated discussions”

  1. I’d say it is not “inappropriate or undesirable for your FriendFeed comments to be used in secondary discussions in the same way your blog post and comments might be.” Unless you’ve made your FriendFeed private, I would regard anything you’ve posted online there to be public information and fair game for discussion, analysis, quoting, etc. The content FriendFeed is searchable from within the FriendFeed interface; some day it will likely be crawled and indexed by search engines. Are there really people who would expect what they write on FriendFeed to safe from being discussed elsewhere even though it is a public forum?

  2. GeekChic says:

    I’d agree with Stephen. Anything committed to the web or the internet – unless explicitly marked private – is easily searchable so you should feel free to use it and quote it. If the material is marked private, then you (or anyone else) should ask first.

    [Full disclosure: I do not, at the moment, use FriendFeed.]

  3. walt says:

    Thanks (and I hope to get more comments). The tenor of the thread on FF was different, at least partially–people seem to think that I should request permission, or at least notify, before quoting anybody. That’s simply not feasible; if I had to do that for all quotations, I’d shut down C&I (or always paraphrase and get constant “but nobody said that” or “why aren’t you quoting” responses).

    There is a problem: There’s no easy way to identify threads that began as private, if you’re subscribed to any private feeds.

    For now, my solution is to treat FF threads as “nature of conversation” materials–that is, to discuss what’s being said if it’s useful, but typically without direct quotation or naming names. I’m not entirely thrilled with that solution, but I do sense that people think of FF comments as more ephemeral than blog-post comments, even if they’re not really. And the lack of clear ID for private feeds (once you’re subscribed) gives me considerable pause.

    Anyway, more comments certainly welcome!

  4. Iris says:

    Actually, you can identify threads that start out as private. Each one has a little grey lock just under the post itself on the far left.

  5. GeekChic says:

    I think I can understand why the people on FriendFeed would prefer to have a private place to “talk” (if that’s the right word). I don’t know if society is fully comfortable with the quasi-openness of the web/internet (witness the fact that I use a pseudonym).

    That said, nothing submitted to the web/internet in the free and clear is truly private and everyone (even me) has to get used to it.

    I’m glad Iris chimed in to make your life easier.

  6. walt says:

    Iris FTW! I had no idea (there aren’t many of them). And, fortunately, the little lock isn’t vanished by the Stylish styles I use in FF (to get rid of avatars and generally make it a little more compact.

    Given that, I’ll change my plans a little:
    *If it’s a private thread, I would never use names or direct quotations and would rarely even refer to the thread indirectly. (Rarely=Almost never).
    *If it’s a public thread, I’ll try to respect the more casual nature of the medium (“what GeekChic says”), but somewhat less stringently.