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Category: hci

Hypertargeting and the Panopticon of Social Networks


The rebellion against hyper-targeting continues. Doc Searls weighs in, as does Jason Calacanis. Targeted marketing always worked with fairly crude tools, and because of this it was tolerable. Marketers looked at demographics and psychographics, made educated guesses about the audiences of particular radio or television programs, and did the best they could. It was more art than science. The direct marketers were the most statistically driven. Marketers dreamed of knowing enough to target perfectly. Now with Facebook and other social networks, they’re starting to get their wish. The user inhabits a panopticon, and the data generated belongs to the system to be rented to the highest bidder.

Will the inmates rebel and demand the authority to selectively release data to the system? Will they be able release none of their data and still participate in the system? Can they withdraw their data, move it and use it to their advantage in another system? When a customer uses her data to her advantage in a system, the system benefits as well.The coarse targeting of marketing has required high frequency bombardment. We’re entering the age of smart bombs, but the frequency seems to be just as high. Shouldn’t smart marketing just be the thing I want, when I’ve indicated I actually want it? Advertising frequency goes down, but the number of transactions probably increases.

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Aggressive weeds in the garden of your social graph?

It’s a cold world out there. In the beginning there was the walled garden. AOL was a safe place, but in the end it couldn’t  compete with the wider network of websites. But once we were out in the cold cruel world, we needed someone to help us find our way around. A personal start page like MyYahoo, or a search engine like Google provided an orientation point for any journey into the network.

Social networking sites like Facebook seem to provide a new entry point that filters the larger network using one’s friends as editors; transparantly journals friend activity; and provides the opportunity to create facets, or nodes of connection, through the assertion of interests (preferred modes of attention) within the social network.

The battle for monetizing the network revolves around which company can provide the best orientation point for entering the network. Facebook puts you into the stream of your friend’s activity. Techmeme puts you into the stream of technology news and opinion. Twitter puts you into an edited collection of small moments, stream of consciousness and conversation. MyYahoo is a personal newspaper. Google is ready to show you whatever you’re interested in. Google Reader puts you in an edited stream of blogs. puts you into an edited stream of categorized bookmarks and pointers. Mahalo is a variation on Google, it’ll show you whatever you’re interested in, but edits the search result to make it more human readable. Where do you want to enter the network today? Perhaps, I’d like to enter through my teleputer…

Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. This is the primary lesson for social networking sites, what was so painstakingly created and nutured can be destroyed very easily. The structure of a social network is biological, it’s growth is organic. But it is subject to disease (viruses, the madness of mobs, etc) and environmental factors. For instance, you could introduce social objects (nodes) that aren’t individuals, but representatives of corporate entities. You could ask people within the network to vouch for these new objects. You could have just figured out the best way to monetize the social network as an entry point, or you could have introduced an aggressive weed into your garden. In any case, the ecology of the system is irrevocably altered. Trust is hard to win, easy to lose.


Intertextuality: the digerati and the literati


The New Yorker has an interesting article about the future of reading, library and books. There’s a quote by Kevin Kelly that caught my eye:

“all the books in the world? would “become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas.? The user of the electronic library would be able to bring together “all texts—past and present, multilingual—on a particular subject,? and, by doing so, gain “a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do know and don’t know.?

This exposes the gap between the digerati and the literati. The idea of the a “single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas” is called intertextuality and was introduced into the conversation by Julia Kristeva.

Kristeva referred to texts in terms of two axes: a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other texts (Kristeva 1980, 69). Uniting these two axes are shared codes: every text and every reading depends on prior codes. Kristeva declared that ‘every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it

While the digerati dream of a liquid, hyperlinked super document living on Web servers, the literati know that texts are connected on many axes. And the connections are not simple links, they contain politics, power, poetic and gender influences— they shade meaning.

Texts are always already connected, but literal connection in a super hypertext document could make implicit links explicit. But will explicit links also expose the influence of the linking? As with all software, it’s not about the code, it’s about the user. In this case, the locus of meaning, the only really important connections, are in the mind’s eye of the reader.


Not A Keyboard, But an Amazing Simulation

Flat Apple Keyboard

Taking the torch from Xerox Parc, Apple has lead the field in taking the general computer user beyond the traditional input devices. Graphic User Interface, the mouse, the touchpad, and most recently multi-touch. The direction is a bias against the mechanical for human/computer interaction. Apple decided against a mechanical keyboard for the iPhone, and it looks like they’re continuing in that direction with this patent filing. Unwired View makes the filing a little more understandable.

The keyboard becomes a software environment, and that opens a world of possibilities. We’re very early in this game, and currently the mechanical keyboard is much more usable than the various virtual keyboards out there. We prefer the tactile feedback, but that’s the challenge Apple appears to be tackling. How do you put a beautiful simulation of the act of typing on the glass?

The current form of human / computer interaction via KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) has been an unnatural configuration from the start. It’s always been about the needs of the machine and the network. It’s only through the expansion of interaction modes that the current configuration of computing can be de-centered and distributed into a ubiquitous set of new devices. The iPhone is a tentative first step on that journey.

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