Archive for March, 2007

Men and women respond differently to Kathy Sierra

March 30, 2007

I was discussing yesterday with Jay Fienberg how it bothers me that some of the ostensibly supportive comments on Kathy Sierra’s blog include thoughts along the lines of “I am a big man so I am not vulnerable to these kinds of threats.” Not only does this sort of reinforce the chauvinism, as Jay pointed out, but it’s also ludicrous. I don’t care if you’re tall and male and you work out. Someone can still shoot you, jump you, drop a safe on your head, or kidnap your children. It smacks of role-playing fantasy to believe that your macho body will avert the evil eye.
Laura Lemay wrote a particularly thoughtful piece on the Sierra situation (lauralemay :: blog :: kathy sierra, or, imminent death of the net predicted) and noticed a difference in how men and women have tended to react:
> Mostly as I read the comments on Kathy’s post and on other blogs I have noticed a kind of interesting but obvious breakdown. Men, in general, are shocked and horrified that this kind of harassment goes on at all. Women are of course shocked and horrified at Kathy’s situation, but they also kind of nod ruefully and say yeah, it happened to me, too.
> I honestly didn’t think this was a secret, that women get disproportionally picked on in the internets. I thought it was a big fat obvious fact.
> Do I get stalked and harassed and picked on on the internet? Do I get death threats? Sure. I started getting them the week I first posted to Usenet twenty years ago, and I’ve been getting them ever since. It was worse during the usenet era, and WAY worse when I was selling a lot of books. Its pretty quiet these days now that I’m mostly anonymous and I write a mostly personal journal blog. No one cares about cat posts; there are bigger targets. But it still happens.
> But even though all I’ve had is silly email and blog comments I would be lying if I said I was immune to it, that I just blithely delete it all and move on with my life, or that the barrage of it when I was a popular author wasn’t a factor in wanting to maybe not be so popular anymore. You always wonder if its THIS particular scary nutbag who’s going to be the one to go beyond recreational typing. There’s always a small nagging fear.
> Honestly until this week I thought this sort of constant harassment was so common and so obvious it wasn’t even worth mentioning. It had gone on for so long and I had gotten so used to it that it hadn’t occurred to me that this is anything other than what it means to be female on the internet. I told [my husband] about it and he asked me, aghast, why I had never mentioned that I get death threats. We’ve known each other for fifteen years. It just never came up. The shocked reactions internet-wide to Kathy’s post have made me realize that hm. maybe this isn’t normal. And maybe it shouldn’t be.
In Not looking for sympathy or anything Dave Winer deplores the mob mentality that has arisen from Kathy Sierra’s complaint and the way it tarred a range of people with varying degrees of involvement with the same brush.
He also notes a gender imbalance tilted the opposite way:
> People aren’t going to like this, but it’s true — when a woman asks for a riot she gets one, and almost no one comes to the defense of a man who is attacked. Who’s more vulnerable? Well, honestly, it’s not always a woman.
> The time to act is way before it escalates into the kind of post that Kathy Sierra posted. There should be people who are willing to provide personal support to others who are ostracized this way — and that support should be available regardless of gender, age, or other circumstances.
> I won’t support anything that only offers support to women and not men. We must help unpopular people, even people who we think are mean. It’s no crime to be unpopular, and you can measure our humanity by how good we are to people we don’t like.
Nancy White, an expert on online community, weighs in with Hate, Threats and the Culture of Love, and looks for opportunities to learn from this situation. Her thoughts don’t dwell on gender divisions but more on how the we collectively (in communities, in the blogosphere, in the human race) can engage with each other constructively.
She looks at three levels at which we can try to find a way forward:
> 1. *What I choose to take personal responsibility for* – on my blog, on websites I host, garden or facilitate and WHY. How transparently I do this so people can choose to engage or not. I delete spam. I delete hate comments. Have I made that clear? Not clear enough. So I need to get my personal online house in order.
> 2. *What I choose to negotiate with the communities and groups I participate in.* This goes to the possibility of being complicit in something that goes against my beliefs, values and promises I make to and with others. For me, the issues with MeanKids etc. fall into this one and it is worth some more conversation. I accept that we will have differing views on this. But we have choice about what we support, what we ignore and what we speak out on.
> Free speech is essential. Hate attacks and rape fantasies should not have to be policy level decisions – or only as last resort. We as a community should not tolerate them. If you want to have hateful discussions, take it to a walled garden. If you do it in public, expect impact on your reputation. (Note: this is NOT directed at anyone. I don’t know who did what and leave that to those involved to sort out. I’m talking at the general level.)
> 3. *What I choose to support from a policy level.* Death threats should be prosecuted. Privacy should be protected. Free speech should be protected.

Blog responses to my SxSW panel

March 30, 2007

I gathered these links and quotations within a day or so of the panel I moderated at South by Southwest, but since then I’ve been to another conference and am generally running behind. Still, I was pleased by many of these responses (and even the less positive ones provide useful criticism) so I wanted to make a point of reflecting them here:
Jason Toney at Blog is a Mix Tape wrote:
> * New etiquette rules really need to be established for online and mobile communication
> * Reputation, Identity, Presence, Nameplaces – these are my kinds of buzzwords
> * How does the desire for someone like me who wants a persistent online identity exist at the same time that many people (particularly young people) like the concept of disposable identity? Are their tools and applications that can make the web better for both types of folks?
> * What about those who want no online identity but still wants the tools that are increasingly requiring identity creation?

The author of swirlspice wrote:
> Started the day with Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation…. This could have gone on for another hour. Mostly about managing your identity and how your reputation develops and propagates (your reputation is assigned to you more than you create it).
In Wired’s “Listening Post” blog, Laura Moorhead wrote Leave No Trail Behind:
> Who are you? Your Wikipedia entry or your last blog entry? What about that half-clothed avatar or raunchy kid from a few years back?
> The panel “Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence, and Reputation Online” reminds us — not that we needed it — that our identity lives on and it’s mutating out of control. Friends, enemies, and crazy exes (aka Sibils) augment it, and big companies, such as Amazon, Google, and Yahoo, use and benefit from it. Where’s the user control?
> Early on in the hour-long panel, Ted Nadeau, from Dot Line Inc., reminds us that though we’re all pro privacy, there really is no privacy online.
> Take a look at the top handful of sites trying to offer users control over their online identity – be that one or 12 personas – and expect to be disappointed. “Reputation 1.0 isn’t working – there’s no consistency in someone’s reputation,” says Nadeau. “There’s big thinking, but no one coding yet.”
> What’s the perfect reputation system? Perhaps, says Nadeau, one in which you can move your persona from one web site to another, with different data stores and key spaces (say, your copy, that of others and a shared version).
> This is pretty much what panelist Kaliya Hamlin, a freelance evangelist for open standards in user-centric identity (OpenID2, i-names, XRI/XDI, SAML, icards, Higgins), backs. With OpenID2, she says, you travel the web with your identity. Essentially, you own it, and there’s no breadcrumb trail for online companies to feed off.
> Mary Hodder, founder of Dabble, a social search site, goes on to ask, Why shouldn’t users own all their clicks? Hodder put this question to companies like Amazon and Google — and (amazingly) they agreed. She’s even got a tool to track a person’s online life via clicks.
> This idea of leave no trail behind is big. Eliot Van Buskirk’s article about the RIAA’s latest poison pen shows us why users might want to own a copy of all their online wanderings and actions.
> Another option (I think from Hodder and Hamlin): If all our info is public, but anonymous, that’s even better.
> One last nugget from Hodder: We’re agreeing to things we don’t understand. Consider Google’s deal with San Francisco to set up the city with a wireless network. Taxpayers are giving up their “attention data” — their online entities — for 17 years. Hodder says that’s worth millions, far more than the cost of the wireless setup. Shouldn’t the city or someone get a cut?
Bill Humphries wrote in his blog Whump, I’m a 10th Level Link Blogger:
> Liz Henry: Ted Nadeau says our non-monetary assets are: Identity, Attention, Intention, Influence, Reputation. (In addition to Str Dex Int Wis Con Cha.)”
Laura Fisher wrote in her a later date blog:
> Attended a great panel, moderated by Christian Crumlish, on web identity and attention. There were some terrific things said; I took notes – it deserves a post of its own.
Laura Porto wrote in Digital Dialogs:
> Identity and reputation in the digital space is one of those gigantic topics to try to tackle in an hour. This panel provided some discussion starters, but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to go deeper.
> * Mary Hodder made the suggestion that we all be transparent about what we do online so that the government can’t stigmatize certain people or certain behaviors
> * Ted Nadeau made the point that while you are connected to your identity you are not in control of it
> * George Kelly showed us the interactive Johari window as an example of how our reputations so not belong to us, but rather to the people who interact with us
> One of the most interesting points of the panel came from an audience participant who asked about changing identity. We are, after all, a young industry. How will we feel about having one identity in 10 or 20 or 30 years? I for one, find it fun to Google my Usenet entries circa 95.
> Another interesting point raised was how we manage the public versus private space.”
Rob Pongsajapan wrote in arrivals/departures:
> One panel that was excellent, however, was the Christian Crumlish-moderated panel on identity, attention, presence and reputation. I was trading notes with Aly after the session and sent her my impression of the panel: “Mary Hodder didn’t disappoint,” I texted.
In Composite: Thoughts on Poetics Liz Henry transcribed very accurate notes and wrote, “Wow, I dig all the stuff Ted has been saying.”
In Eco-Geekery Brian Fitzgeral wrote:
> This was a great panel, really well facilitated by Christian Crumlish, author *The Power of the Many*. He’s working on a new book, and claims “my scam was to put this panel together, take notes on what they say, and sneak it into my book.” Man, that is SO going to be a book if he does so. His online identities are. xian, mediajunkie.
Chris Hunter wrote in jugglebird:
> I’m at SXSW early for a panel on reputation and identity. It started out very slow, with the moderator, Christian Crumlish, rambling on without making many definitive statements.
> Ted Nadeau went next, with an admitted preface that he was new to identity and reputation. While his talk was rambling, he threw out some interesting observations about existing reputation systems (eBay, LinkedIn, Slashdot, etc…) but generally noting the lack of widespread and open reputation systems. It definitely seems like there’s an opportunity for something tied to OpenID and given the direction LoTV is headed, it’s worth paying attention to this area.”
> Mary Hodder spoke next about the Attention Trust, starting with an example of how Google uses attention in the form of links and AdSense to power their businesses. She related that the Attention Trust founders actually had a much easier time than expected in getting large internet companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc…) to release this information to their users.”
> The last panelist, George Kelly, spoke about the interactive johari window which allows an individual to self-select attributes and then compare them to the attributes selected by others. The inverse, a nohari window, allows the selection of negative attributes with the same kind of comparison and filtering.”
The author of worldmegan took extensive notes, including this:
> This panel is called Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation. Christian Crumlish is our moderator. He seems nice, though very sleepy. Poor west coast people. Hell, I’M sleepy.
and notes on the discussion of an attention economy:
> Attention: The “attention economy,” what is this thing? It’s actually incredibly consequental that Google is collecting your information – this has to do with the attention economy. A link to a site is a vote of confidence in Google’s eyes. Rank results are based on this, are based on what a person clicks when they search for something. Adsense is also based on all of this. The “attention trust” asserts that you own a copy of this information. (Attention is still bothering me, I’m not quite getting it.) Seth Goldstein and Steve Gilmore started the attention trust, Mary is explaining. They got everybody to agree that the users own a copy of their attention streams. An attention stream is all those clicks you put into your browser, all these things someone is recording. There’s also a recorder you can use to record your own stream, it sounds like… this is actually really interesting! I like Mary Hodder.”
Rex Hammond did some very thorough very thorough liveblogging.
Will Kern wrote in 15 Meanings:
> The first panel I went to was Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation, which consisted of Christian Crumlish from Yahoo!, Kaliya Hamlin from Identity Woman, Mary Hodder from Dabble, George Kelly from the Contra Costa Newspapers and Ted Nadeau from Dot Line Inc. The title of the panel seemed very intriguing and I thought I could gain a lot out of it and how it applies to social networking.
> There were a few things I took away, but not necessarily how they directly applied to social networking. Kaliya talked about identity and namespaces, which I thought was good. She illustrates how OpenID like services work she was pitching the Yadis protocol, which would bring the various OpenID like options into 1 single sign on.
> Ted discussed reputation (which he knowingly admitted that prior to a few days ago; he did not know much about the subject matter, kinda scary). With that being said, he did make some good points on the matter. He defined what reputation is as it pertains to the web and how you are not the primary authority on your reputation as it appears differently to different people.
And Leisa Reichelt wrote in her blog disambiguity:
> Every Breath You Take – an incredibly intelligent, engaging and interesting panel on identity, attention and reputation which are topics that I’m finding incredibly interesting at the moment. There are all kinds of problems and opportunities around identity at the moment and this panel, including Christian Crumlish, Ted Nadeau, Mary Hodder, Kaliya Hamlin and George Kelly took a run at some of them. I’m still thing about the idea of Identity Friction and how we need to increase identity friction in virtual spaces to better replicate how it works in the ‘real world’.
On the whole, I think we managed to spark some interesting thoughts and kick off some much needed conversations around these vital concepts for the social, living web.
**Note:** I’ve added Ted Nadeau’s slides to my own in an earlier post to this blog.

My slides from the IA Summit

March 30, 2007

Here are my slides from my presentation, Mobile Information Architecture: Designing Experiences for the Mobile Web:

(I may update them with a 2.0 version based on some new learnings from subsequent conversations, and a different idea of how to pace the imagery.)
And here are my slides from the panel I moderated, Lessons From Failure: Or How IAs Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bombs:

links for 2007-03-28

March 28, 2007

You are your own words

March 28, 2007

I’ve been following the upsetting story of how Kathy Sierra, creator of the Head First book series, author of the Creating Passionate Users weblog, and noted speaker on the web / technology circuit was frightened into cancelling her scheduled appearance at eTech by a series of escalating threats to her personal safety in the form of email messages sent directly to her by readers and posts to several community blogs, now defunct, oriented toward taking pot shots at the more famous and popular bloggers.

Bloggers, her readers, and people learning about the story from news and blog sources have generally rallied to support Sierra. The long comment thread at the end of her post announcing the cancellation and detailing the communications that terrorized her attests to that. A number of people have quibbled with her interpretation of the messages, told her “man up” and to stop being hysterical, or have accused her of manufacturing her response as a public relations / marketing ploy.

Myself, I’ve been known to be verbally mean at time, to pick on people, to be saracstic and snarky when it suits me, but the two sites (“Mean Kids” and “Bob’s Yer Uncle”), ostensibly designed to encourage freewheeling, humorous, creative criticism, puncturing the puffed up much like certain gossip blogs do for the true celebrities in our culture, somehow gave free rein to a much more virulent form of attack: unbridled misogyny edging into images of sexual violence and horror.

It’s a dirty little secret of our world that hierarchies are sometimes enforced, under the cover of darkness, by sexualized threats of violence and domineering acts of humiliation. It’s more visible in lockerrooms, prisons, and other sealed male enclaves, but it may stem from primate behaviors that predate our humanity and it carries on to this day inside families and, at least in symbolic form, in public communication.

What struck me about this situation is how the worst attacks – revenge fantasies described in cartoonish pornographic terms, tend to have come from people writing under the cloak of anonymity, or deniability (for example, it’s still not clear if the posts associated with Alan “Head Lemur” Herrel cited in Sierra’s blog entry are actually by the man who goes by the nickname).

On Slashdot, no haven of civilized discourse, a poster who refuses to register and adopt a consistent persona is given the default name “Anonymous Coward.” Throughout the generally supportive comments flooding into Sierra’s blog post are peppered juvenile hit-and-run posts attacking her or making random racist and sexist comments. These comments are inevitably posted anonymously, and associated with made-up email addresses or urls.

In the political blogosphere, where this sort of situation is less uncommon, there is an ongoing debate about the role of pseudonymity in blogs. A number of Sierra’s readers were sent there via the conservative blog, Protein Wisdom, whose author experienced a similar verbal attack from a commenter featuring vile “hypothetical” threats of sexualized violence (in that case targetting children, if I recall correctly). At the same time, the author of Protein Wisdom, Jeff Goldstein, is often criticized in the sort of left-wing blogs I frequent for engaging in threats to “out” pseudonymous bloggers while at the same time claiming to stand for civiility and sponsoring a set of ethical guidelines for bloggers.

Defenders of pseudonymous blogging make the point that not everyone is free to speak in public about political and social matters without fear of retaliation. Further, they argue that it is the persistence and consistency their assumed identity to which their reputation attaches, and that a perosn posting day in, day out, for years, as Sifu Tweety or Atrios is every bit as accountable for his (or her) words as someone signing their posts with a “real” name.

In Sierra’s explanatory post she called on several bloggers by name, blaming them for instigating the climate that incubated these attacks and for allowing them to escalate. She also cited a few less well known identities: one calling himself Siftee, who sent her a threatening email message, and another signing his posts Joey, who wrote apparently about a fictional character named Kat in misogynistic terms in the vicinity of posts attacking Kathy Sierra.

Of the contributors to Mean Kids, only Frank Paynter has come forward to apologize, without reservation, for his role, however inadvertant, in the development of this situation. I consider Frank a friend based solely on a shared history of reading each other’s bloggings, occasionally linking to each other, and even more rarely exchanging brief notes. I’m connected to Frank through Twitter and older social network environments and I admire his forthrightness in this situation.

Jeneane Sessums and Chris “RageBoy” Locke have been less willing to apologize or to own any responsibility for what happened. Sessums disclaimed any involvement at all with the sites although others seem to believe she was involved with the Mean Kids project. She has also refused to discuss the topic further in public. Locke argued that he did not write any of the sexually crude scenarios or send any threats and that hence Sierra invoked his name only to drive attention and embroil him in her controversy.

I feel that both of these people could have made an apology and still attempted to clarify their own culpability while distancing themselves from the statements they wish to disown.

Finally, “Joey” and a fellow named Paul Ritchie have mounted a more aggressive defense of themselves and the Mean Kids and Bob’s websites, arguing the Sierra is deliberately grandstanding and deluding her readers in order to form a lynch mob online, drive more sales to her books and increase her speaking fees.

I do not find these arguments compelling and I am not sympathetic, partly because neither of them seems willing to repudiate the grossly indecent verbal attacks on Sierra (nor the violently misogynistic fantasies involving imaginary stock female figures).

What I will grant is that all of the people I just mentioned have to some extent been willing to go on the record and produce themselves in public in the aftermath of Sierra’s accusations, cancellation, and self-enforced seclusion.

Thus far I have not seen a public statement from Alan Herrel either claiming or disowning the misogynistic entries Sierra included in her blog post, which were posted under the name “Rev ED” on the Bob’s site using his familiar avatar.

Both Paynter and Locke cited a motto from the Well known as “You own your own words” or “YOYOW,” and I find this interesting. Paynter referred to it when discussing how the two snark sites did not censor their contributors, saying “Misogynistic postings at led me to try to moderate, but indeed the group there was of the ‘You Own Your Own Words’ tradition, so moderating or central editorial control wouldn’t work. I tore the site down.”

Locke likewise cited YOYOW in his defense of himself on his own blog:

I was a conference host on the Well 15 years ago where the core ethos was acronymized to YOYOW — You Own Your Own Words. This has remained a guiding principle for me ever since. I will not take responsibility for what someone else said, nor will I censor what another individual wrote. However, it was clear that Sierra was upset, so it seemed the best course to make the whole site go away.

(I know Locke only by reputation but have exchanged email with him in the past.)

What struck me about this is that I think they both may be missing some of the key elements of that philosophy. On the Well, while contributors may adopt pseudonyms at any time, their real names are always discoverable and each user is allowed only one single identity. This has long been considered a key reason why so many Well conferences manage to stay on topic and avoid the sort of flame wars that tend to eventually ravage utterly free-wheeling online discussions.

Furthermore, Well conferences are hosted, and hosts are given a handful of moderation tools and guidelines for how to use them to manage situations that are spinning out of control and contributors who are causing grief. These tools range from verbal warnings to the ability to hide or scribble offending posts to the power to ban members from the conference entirely (usually for a limited three-day cooling-off period).

When people can post whatever they like without having to accept any impact on their own reputation or identity, when they don’t establish and maintain a consistent findable presence online, then they are not in fact owning their own words. I don’t think the YOYOW ethos is intended as an excuse for moderators to avoid managing the tenor of their discussion forums, and I find it interesting that the people involved who have at least engaged Sierra’s complaints are all, except for Joey, people writing under their real names or who have at least established longstanding records of their thoughts online under their chosen handles. (Sessum specifically points to her blog archives as a character witness.)

One last point about owning your own words: To varying degrees Joey, Ritchie, and Locke have argued that Sierra is victimizing them by associating them with words they did not write or by painting them as part of an organized conspiracy when anarchy and permissiveness are all they actually engaged in. Here I think owning your own words again comes into play. If you gleefully call yourself a mean kid and stand on the sidelines egging on bullies, don’t cry foul when the bullies’ victims fight back and you find yourself tarred with the same brush.

UPDATE: I see that Doc Searls has posted an email message from Alan Herrel denying authorship of the post that used his avatar and saying that this scandal has effectively destroyed his online presence. Reading his words I feel sympathy for him, particularly if his systems are being attacked as he describes and if he is being harassed off the net, but I still find myself wondering whether he distanced himself from the person who had assumed his image when the inflammatory comments were originally published.

My vocal debut

March 23, 2007

Been meaning to do some recording at Vortex Studios and last weekend I finally got the chance. Cecil played me his song, “Styrofoam,” and then recorded me singing it with his backing tracks in my ears to guide me.

So far, so good. then Cecil added harmony vocals, additional guitars and keyboards and drums ‘n’ stuff and just generally whipped it up into a beautiful little track. Suddenly my plaintive reedy voice is fronting the Cecil Vortex Experience, an experience I heartily recommend.

Go listen to Styrofoam now. It’s just over two minutes, just over two megs. What have you got to lose?

Overall it was a musical week for me, as I got a chance to sit in with the Gloria Monday‘s farewell SF show at Ireland’s 32 on Tuesday night. I have footage of that as well, but it will stay firmly in the vault as a reminder that I need to rehearse my uke licks bigtime.

links for 2007-03-22

March 22, 2007

My slides from SxSW

March 21, 2007

These slides are only minutely useful as they are nearly all images without any notes or bullet points. When the podcast comes out I will work on synchronizing my remarks with the slides.
I’ll be posting Ted Nadeau’s slides next. His were much more content rich.

**Update:** Here are Ted’s slides:

links for 2007-03-21

March 21, 2007

Yet another friend metaphor (for twitter)

March 21, 2007

So I just wasted, er, spent a half hour surfing twitter pages and poaching friends of friends. I noticed that I had a strong gut sense of who I felt it was ok to befriend, most of the time, but that it doesn’t necessarily map to people who are actually my friends or whom I’ve met, although it may factor in how recently I’ve dealt with them.
For some, I added them because I’m interested in what they have to ssay or what they’re doing. I anticipate that their feed will be intereesting, or the preview of their recent thoughts is copmpelling. I’m aware that some of these people may not remember me, may not add me back (which is fine) or allow me to add them if they are twittering privately.
The etiquette is awkward. The UI at twitter sort of implies you should add people back, but that may be just in the contexts of private twitters.
I often notice odd disjunctions between my friend lists or various social services. Some people have talked about being able to bulk upload friend networks using hcards or something from one service to the next, but I wonder if that mapping really makes sense. For whatever reason, for example, Joi Ito is a contact of mine in Flickr but not on LinkedIn. At least one of us probably wants it to be that way.
The whole topics of reciprocity and social guidelines about when it’s ok to ignore a connection or a friend request and when it carries a social burden to do so is interesting too.
This has been another in a series of posts full of questions and half-baked proto-thoughts with few answers or real insights.
Speaking of twitter, I’ve dressed up my sidebar with badge bling. Been thinking hard about seriously redesigning my main blog and possibly moving it over to mediajunkie, which may be the catchiest domain name I own.