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Archive for August, 2005

TheFacebook and a call for open social inter-networking

Friday, August 26th, 2005

Today, Here and Now tackles theFacebook, the latest social networking system to cause a cyberspace ripple. Admittedly, I questioned the relevance of this network for some time. In my eyes, it seemed just another derivation of Friendster, the dominant social networking tool of my undergraduate years. Recently, though, I have changed my opinion. A student at Northeastern estimated that more than 80% of her fellow undergraduate population is listed on the site. Founders say that there are 100,000+ users logged in at any given time. Last year, a Boston paper reported that even the president of BU was profiled on the site. Relevant? Yes.

According to current undergrads, theFacebook does not have the nerd stigma that has deterred their classmates from joining Friendster or Myspace. To this end, it is interesting to explore the comments by Adam Weinberg and John Palfrey concerning privacy and social networking. Is it safe to assume that students fearful of a geek outing are less sophisticated in dealing with the persistence of information transmitted online? A quick perusal of profiles on any of the dominant social networks will reveal a surprising number of photos depicting PG-13 behaviors. What will the future Senate confirmations hearings be like if pictures of the nominated Justices downing 40s are stored on Will this lead to a more tolerant culture open to a leadership of pluralism and light transgression or will we see a desperate litigious scramble by citizens in their late-20’s to sue away embarassing photos from their youth?

During my time as an undergrad, walking through the quad on a springtime afternoon at Assumption, one would see the frisbees, smell the suntan lotion, and hear the acoustic guitars and boomboxes characteristic of an American liberal arts institution. What might surprise an alum is the ubiquitous doorknock sound reverberating off of the brick dormitory walls. AOL Instant Messenger was a required piece of software for my classmates, more reliable than the telephone and less intimidating than a coversation in the dining hall. Parties were advertised via away message and to be blocked from a friend’s Buddy List was deeply disrespectful.

A caller to Here and Now worried that undergrads using social networking technologies are missing out on an education of discomfort once required for first year students. According to the 2002 American College Health Association national survey, 66% of college students indicated that they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the last year, and 46% reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function.1 Widespread adoption of tools that help these students to cope with the alienation and stress of today’s postsecondary experience will result in stronger graduates and a better educated citizenry. Any first date is going to be an awkward experience regardless of how many messages the couple swaps online. Students can now explore their curiosities and exercise control over many of their public expressions in a safe, cyberspace environment with tight realspace integration.

The question that lingers for this writer is definitely one for those unafraid to represent their nerdiness. When will we see an open standard for social inter-networking? It seems that a single XML schema could cover all of the basic data common to Friendster, MySpace, theFacebook, Orkut, Everyone’s Connected, BlackPlanet, MiGente, AsianAvenue, etc. etc. And wouldn’t a supernetwork like that really define relevance?

Readers looking for further discussion should check, a blog on social networking edited by college students.

1 Castronovo, Neil. “The Challenge of Parenting College Students.” Assumption Magazine, Summer 2005.

Leeroy.wmv – a glimpse of the future

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

Leeroy.wmv is a digital video file encoded in Windows Media format. It depicts a group of characters in the multi-player online fantasy game World of Warcraft planning an assault on a crypt full of monsters. You can hear the players’ actual voices discussing the strategy they will use to pilot their avatars in the coming battle. The situation takes a humorous turn (surely the reason the file is being passed around the web) but I found it a profoundly candid glimpse into the world of online gaming.

The communities developing around MMORPG / Virtual World gaming are rapidly becoming as sophisticated as the “real world” communities in which humans traditionally participate. Complete with friendship, commerce, art, and sport, these communities deliver much of what was promised by early text-mediated virtual worlds such as HoloMUCK at the start of the 1990’s. A decade of practice with metaphysical social interaction through email and IM has made today’s users much more comfortable traversing the boundaries to virtual worlds.

The questions raised by this technology are fascinating and endless. The most popular games are closed software owned by private companies. To make an offline comparison: in the World of Warcraft, gravity is a trade secret.

For a quick introduction, take a glimpse at the plight of Leeroy and Co., skim the Wikipedia MMORPG entry and read the curious 10 Ways MMORPGs Will Change the Future. You may also try a game for free such as the Java-based RuneScape or the open-source Daimonin.

I want my DTV

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

The Participatory Culture Foundation goes live today with a DTV client for Mac OS X. Paired with the Broadcast Machine, these tools combine the power of low-cost video production and distribution to create space for bottom-up, peer-to-peer internet television.

From buzzword to NPR in just a few months, podcasting took advantage of the openness of RSS to make portable internet radio a reality. DTV and Broadcast Machine go one better by using BitTorrent to share the bandwidth burden of multimedia content. If these tools get the proper support from users and developers, we may finally see a democratization of video emerge online.

Mac OS X users, head over to the PCF download page to get the new client. Windows and GNU/Linux users, check out vids from Some Pig, producers of one of the craziest channels, at