Tuesday, November 25, 2008

boundaries, blending and portability

Was watching a colleague login to a wiki the other day, trying various combinations of 3-4 usernames and passwords-- a situation you're probably pretty familiar with. We have multiple, yet limited, online identities, each with their own digital breadcrumbs, associations, and goals.

Even the earliest theorists of self (e.g. James, Meade, Cooley) saw this coming -- our online memberships automatically embed us in different networks; it's only natural to shift your identity based on context. Blogger, mother, NY-er, Texan, etc...

It made me think about our tacit strategies to manage our online identities and attitudes toward portability. Danah Boyd, of course, talks about related issues frequently (and early on).

My Links are fairly distinct from my Friends and who I Follow -- not 100% -- but I don't really use segmentation strategies within networks to adjust who sees what/ what I see.

With single digital identities and proliferating technology top of mind, the effect of maintaining distinctions across networks vs. merging, and porting identities are weighing down on me. A pretty extensive literature in social psych shows that when primed with a given identity, we adopt a certain awareness that guides our attention and evaluations, and influences our subsequent behaviors. This is natural... I'm curious about the opposite effect-- blending boundaries into a melting pot identity and the behavior that would result from a potentially merged self.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

liking and living, collaboratively

There are three main reasons why I loved Clive Thompson's piece in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.

  1. It questions fundamental differences in how we can define people and predict future behavior: self-reports and preferences vs. behavior.

  2. It highlights the paradox of how social seemingly individualistic things are: The social nature of decision-making; not to mention, the very collaborative style of the Netflix' competition.

  3. It touches on the limitations of computers in understanding nuanced human decision-making.

My favorite things!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

computing, culture, and catalyst

I dropped my Moto Q in the bath tub about two weeks ago-- as luck would have it, 4 days beyond the 1-year warranty of the handset. Because I've been indecisive about whether to replace or go iPhone, I've regressed to a pda-free state that only some of you remember once dominated. It's had a pretty profound effect on me:
It gives me some of the peace of being on a desert island.
  • No one can really reach me- at least not in an interuptive way; when they do, it's through more of a pull: email, Facebook, blog comments, Twitter (importantly, all via computer).
It makes me and others more committal.
  • There's no back and forth or last minute changes in plans. If I/you say we'll be somewhere, we best get there, on time, as planned.
It makes me more aware of my network.
  • I've essentially shifted my awareness from my shortlist of contacts to my broader network of weaker ties-- my email address book, FB friends, connections, etc.
Which made me think, to what extent can technology alone lead to change?

This may remind you of the classic Andrew McAfee stance on Web 2.0, that tools empower people, catalyze change. This has triggered an interesting cascade of heated discussion recently in the AU blogosphere questioning to what extent Web 2.0 is about the tools alone. Matt Hodgson, for example asked, If you build it, will they come? What about the group dynamics, organizational readiness, and interdependency of those two? Stephen Collins of Acid Labs and Stuart French at Delta Knowledge all have notable variations on his position, each highly worth reading and reflecting on.

As a social psychologist, I'm inclined to believe in the power of the situation over the person per se, the nurture over the nature, and perhaps thus, the culture over the technology. But clearly you can't equate "technology" with "person"-- that's the problem and why I so strongly believe,
when it comes to Enterprise 2.0, (like some of the others noted above) that technology is the least of it-- it's shifted thinking, fundamental reorganization, process reengineering, and massive cultural change akin to an intense corporate therapy session (cognitive behavioral, of course).

But as my simple experiment shows-- taking away my technological tools (phone) has illustrated the symbiotic nature of the two. I think technology profoundly affects our thinking and behavior (culture) as much as our culture affects the adoption and use of technology.

Monday, November 17, 2008

conversations are like driving: steering and blindspots

When I was in college, I ran rats. Suffice it to say, it was eye-to-eye with one such subject when I committed to social psychology. Interestingly, another labmate, Todd Rogers, sort of did the same. I came across some of his research on conversational blindness today - "answering the wrong question the right way." Now we know why this is advice often given to job interviewees: it really does lead to better outcomes.

Todd and his colleague found that "question dodgers," who basically answer a question they would rather be asked, typically get off scot-free. Furthermore, when they offer up an 'answer' with confidence, people prefer, like, and trust them more than someone who more genuinely attempts to answer the question. You can see Dan Gilbert in Todd's legacy (i.e. cognitive biases, logical fallacies, errors in judgment). Fascinating research! Yet another example of what cognitive misers we are-- unaware of so many nuances, constantly taking mental shortcuts.

In an HBS interview, Todd sums up some of his findings by saying that

It is striking that participants failed to punish the speaker when he dodged the question asked. For example, the speaker paid no price for answering a question about the illegal drug use problem in the United States with a discussion of why we need universal health-care insurance. This lack of penalty might explain why overt dodging appears so prevalent in politics (and in life).

The big finding is that people rely on style as a shortcut to substance. In Todd's words, "style blinds us to the lack of substance." It really makes you question what authenticity is, or rather which aspect of authenticity is most important: saying what you know well, or trying your darnedest to answer a question you really don't have anything to say about. It seems we all just want to hear something, and aren't so picky as to what... Does this remind you of the positive effect of attention?

Todd seems to focus on this phenomenon as evidence of our natural ability to be flexible in social interactions. It's true, I suppose we are efficient enough perceivers that we'd rather pursue value in a conversation than force an answer we know isn't there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Community strategy: lessons from a cult, part 2

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed several friends joining Landmark Forum groups on FB. Landmark has always caught my eye because in a strange way, it’s the ultimate group. Cult or not, it’s a vibrant community of support, affirmation and collaboration. They even tout productivity and communication as their hallmarks. Also, if you’ve ever been involved or have friends who are, you know it has fanatical loyalty. Engagement, anyone? I’ve never done any formal analysis of their communities, but I’m curious how they’d “score” on what are becoming more traditional metrics of community health.

A couple of years ago, I talked to a friend after an intense “blowout” weekend at Landmark. A few unexpected things jumped out at me from our conversation, perhaps lending cues as to how they master the cult-like bond.

1. No notes – implicit collaboration?

Apparently you're not allowed to take notes throughout the intensive weekend-long session. By not taking notes, you're compelled to talk to others to make sense out of what's going on. 

Takeaway: no learnings are private—it really enforces a team mentality. What you would normally keep to yourself, you do in a glass house.

2. Effort justification

The weekend training costs $500. In order to justify the money spent, you’re compelled to put in a certain amount of effort. Once you've invested all that cognitive work (apparently some of the tasks are quite difficult-- digging up all sorts of 'skeletons in the closet'), you rationalize your choice to join. 

Takeaway: people are constantly benefit-seeking – this must promote a really positive climate.

3. It’s hot. "It's the new yoga"

My friend literally said this to me. Everybody's doing it. They claimed that in the same fashion that people flocked to yoga studios 15 years ago, Landmark training is taking the nation by storm. 

Takeaway: people are made to feel like early adopters; either that, or they fear being left out.

4. Allegiance with a mentor

On the last night of weekend training, you're encouraged to bring a friend, if you know any, who has already been through the program. Thus, your friend, at a more advanced stage of justification helps affirm your progress. 

Takeaway: community elders are vital to success. They facilitate your transition and establish their role as a mentor for the confusion you will surely face as a newbie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I was talking to someone about ROI and seemingly put her on the spot by asking how she currently calculates the return on her many efforts. After a long pause, she said "revenue," the de facto anxiety-filled response that people feel compelled to give...

Why the anxiety? Because ROI has evolved to such a confusing concept. Usually people interested in ROI are more intent on figuring out what to measure--  the "health" or "vibrancy" of a community, or how "engaging" a blog is. Should we go ahead and officially blur these boundaries? Can the quality and efficacy of online interactions act as 'return' enough?

Where do things stand with appraisal of intangible assets in modern-day companies? Seems like there may be some good learnings there: there's  no accepted standard for what certain things are worth, and even what should be measured (brand value, intellectual property, expertise), but annual reports are issued, reported book and stock values are available... 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

my new economy of words: katenieder

Remember when Twitter first hatched and people bemoaned the 140-character limit, comparing it to Pownce, or begging for just 20 more characters, like texting? Funny how we've not only gotten over it, but embraced micro-sharing in lieu of longer forms. I could cite several examples, including my new fave, mobile food reviews but feel safe in assuming you agree: we're comfortable with the pith and ease that flows from 140.

I read on Matt Hurst's blog the other day that while Twitter has only 2M users, there are about 3M messages exchanged per day, compared to the 1M blog posts created per day.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised; we have a history of reducing everything into small chunks (and tiny technologies). But the truth is, I haven't come to terms with it... so as of today, I confront it head-on. As many know, I am deepy bothered when others try to reduce people into "two types." I'm similarly annoyed by workweek reductivism, and parenting minimized to 3 easy steps. I'm terrible at updating my status on FB, struck by writer's block everytime I get to the, now optional, "is."

Witness my blatant tendency to write long posts... It ends today with the creation of my new (if third) Twitter account: @katenieder. In future posts we can address what my colleague questioned as potentially unjust reinvention of self, but one step at a time. I hereby begin a new era of pith. Follow me, help me, teach me. Please.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

voting is exhilarating

Google search Trends, Blogpulse buzz, Facebook Lexicon, (ps- check out the new Lexicon for specific queries)  Twitter Twist... anyone know of any real-time, trendable, user-generated data we can look at? 
Also, what other DVs can we look at tomorrow? Excited to see how the results will affect things like the Gallup Daily:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

handmade and hand-to-hand

One of my friends really wants to work at Etsy. Another friend opened up a 'shop' there a few months ago and is so profitable, she's going to have to quit her other job to maintain her wares. My ears were ringing from conversations I overheard about Etsy at the Maker Faire. Suffice it to say, for the past few weeks, I've heard Etsy come up more than a handful of times. I checked out the buzz on Blogpulse and indeed see an increasing trend; likewise for traffic. What's going on?

I'm going to wager it's more than an increasing desire for handmade goods and furthermore, more than mass producers of handmade goods finally having found an outlet-- I think its success has to do with making connections that bypass traditional establishments. It's a perfect example of social networking success - people interacting with unexpected others and benefitting in a big way, beyond any incremental, traditional post-shopping satisfaction. Etsy seems to be doing a really good job facilitating the conversation between buyers and sellers, making connections as easy as a good matchmaker should. 

How to maintain this success? As my friend who, by the way, would be their ultimate next hire points out, one potential next step would be embracing niche, DIY sites like ravelry to create "close-knit communities." As she astutely points out, rather than competing, communities like ravelry's are the perfect way to help Etsy members cultivate their ideas-- it's a way for Etsy to nurture their community by providing their loyal, 'engaged' participants more resources. 

In other words, Etsy should reach out to like-minded others the same way their constituents are.