Journal

How Networks Make Networks

As Monty Python Flying Circus used to say, "Now for something completely different!" I going to attempt to define two really complex concepts and attempt to connect those concepts into the everyday world of social media. Those two terms are infotaxis and stigmergy. Both refer to a similar natural function, that is changing embedded information in an environment that other members of a community could translate, understand and use the information for the betterment of other individuals or the community as a whole. Stigmergy typically refers to the ability of social insects to provide indirect coordination and communication between the members of a community, where the environment changes through interactions between an agent of the community and the environment itself. The changes in the environment translates into either the planning of a task which will be performed by the same or a different member of the community ("to do list") or translates into new pathways for the community to follow ("redefining the structure of the network"). Stigmergy has been adapted to social networks through the work of Mark Elliot and his theoretical framework for mass collaboration.

Infotaxis is more about applying a mathematical analysis to define patterns based on limited information, especially about the zigzag pattern created by social insects. The individual member of the community uses a seemingly random movement pattern to gather information about their environment. For online social networks, an individual member of the network could use an informal ritual to sort through the information present on the network and develop some based on what information has been gathered.

Both of these terms focus on how communities manage self-organization through levels of interaction and the ritualization of communication. In the natural world, this distribution of information helps insects plan and create the necessary social structures needed for basic survival. These actions are conducted without a formal hierarchy of the system delivering information or even true "face-to-face" communication between members of the community.

I wrote a very short post how I thought infotaxis and stigmergy would connect to my dissertation topic of how Facebook can help freshman cope and adjust to their first year of college. So, after think more about infotaxis and stigmergy in the broad scope, it makes sense that the typical member of an online social network would use some of the same information gathering skills that are used by social insects. In online social networks, people develop informal hierarchies based on nodes ("groups") and/or common interests. Informal hierarchies also develop through a folkonomy of the network and a development of shared resources in the network. For the typical freshman entering their first year of college, having access to campus resources through an informal online social network like Facebook would represent an mechanism of adjustment or a coping mechanism depending on what information the student was trying to gather.

The TENCompetence Foundation discussed how stigmergy fits into the new paradigm of social media during their last Winterschool. There was a discussion regarding the ten new principles of social media development; they are adaptability, stigmergy, evolvability, parcellation, trust, sociability, constraint, context, connectivity & scale. It would be fair to make an argument that web developer should look and study these principles in order to cultivate their audiences.

Cyber Dreaming (on Such a Winter's Day)

After being stuck inside my house for 3 days, I decided for new ways to connect myself with the outside world. I figured that there were pretty good odds that one of the people on these networks lived in a place that wasn't getting bombarded with an onslaught of snow. The first site/network that I logged into was the new revitalized site associated with Geeks Radio. Geeks Radio is a thematic Internet radio station designed to play "music for your inner geek." I love listening to Internet radio station associated with a playing to a specific genre. I remember the old CS Radio, which was ran by fans of Counter-Strike. There is also Radio KOL, connecting to the "Kingdom of Loathing." What makes Geeks Radio different from other Internet radio station is really the strong sense of community. There is an active social network associated with the station, fans connect through Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and there is a strong connection on microblogs to the radio's main website. Speaking of music, the other network I'm playing in is blip.fm, which allows users to channel their inner DJ and tweet their songs over Twitter. It seems kind of cool to use music over Twitter to express feelings, thoughts and points in a much clearer way than could be expressed in 140 characters. I love the community aspects of the site, as you can see what your friends are listening to. That's all for now, I'm going to trying to stay warm.

The new technological policy direction of the United States.

As we say good-bye to the old administration and the old technological initiatives are set by the wayside (remember the Internet is/are a bunch of tubes, classic, classic), it is important to look at President Obama's technological policy point and see a possible road for the nation's technological infrastructure. According to the White House website, it seems that Obama's team is focusing on ensuring "the full and free exchange of ideas through an open internet and diverse media outlets." The centerpoint of this is protecting network neutrality and protecting the individual's right to privacy with regards to companies' ability to breech individual's rights.  The rest of the subpoints dealing with the free exchange of ideas deal with content management and distrubution, as opposed to a focus on the political structure of the Internet. Protect the openness of the Internet, encouraging diversity in media ownership and protecting children while preserving the first amendment all tend take the free exchange of ideas outside the realm of ivory tower of Washington D.C. and into the hands of those who do produce and control the media within the World Wide Web. If we are to look at Obama's choices of technological focus through the social filter, it would seem that Obama wants to remove more of the barriers to connection to the Internet. Hopefully, this will include a renew committment to municipal high speed Internet and wi-fi. The digital divide issues still affect people. There are still several area around my regions that only have dial-up, if any Internet access. These must be a prioity to insure that the nation can catch up with the rest of the connected world.

Cyber Security and You!

It seems that I've been focusing a lot on security and fraud on microblogging sites. However, there is more online than microblogging sites, despite my attraction to the concept. As a way of approaching cybersecurity, I finished reading the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency final report. It is an extremely long and through report of the state of cyber security and the need to protect this environment from those who seek to do harm. The main punchline from the report is the need for the next President of the United States to create a comprehensive national security strategy for cyberspace because, quoting from the report, "cybersecurity is now a major national security problem for the United States."

This would seem to be a fair assessment as both McCain and Obama had their networks hacked while they were both campaigning to become president.  The argument that the rest of the American digital public needs a form of digital ID in order to protect their online interest has rightly been criticized by some as a waste of resources and a failure to recognize how cyber criminals work. I would make the argument that these recommendations fail to address the need to education the general public on how to protect themselves and the organizations that they care about/work for/whatever. To address the broad policy issues without address how these recommendations would be foolish. The only point of educating the public is a plan of creating a education plan though the National Science Foundation (NSF).While the NSF has done great work in the past and present in educating the role of science to the American public, I do not believe that the NSF is up to the task of this size. If the NSF is the only federal organization reponsible for educating laypeople who may or may not be computer literate, this project will be huge failure. I do not have a great recommendation on who else currently could help the NSF. The report does mention private-public partnerships. I believe the government should create a new operational organization to help the general public deal with the issues caused cybercrime and the influx of new technology. The focus of education must go beyond the infrastructure of the bureaucracy of the U.S. Government and must approach the general public. If it stays in the ivory tower of Washington D.C., it will hurt us all.

An academic among the trade and culture of the CES

I've wanted to go to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for quite some time. Since the show is the first part of the year, it has difficult to travel to Las Vegas. I'm normally at the National Association of Broadcasters annual show in April and my travel budget really doesn't cover going to Vegas twice in one year. I was really thankful to see several people cover CES from the inside out. For example, Stacie Krajchir described how a group of UNLV students from several different fields were given a tour of the floor and were made deputy reporters covering the show. As somebody who has tried to cover a conference as a reporter and a novice to the field, I can tell you it's tough. I would be very curious to see what would happen if the students were all graduate students, as opposed to undergrad, and see how the reporting would be different. My best guess would deal less with the actual tech and hardware and more about the culture behind the show. The tech reported from many of these shows seem to be nothing more than glorified press releases and instructional video talking about the product. I would be more interested in seeing more of the personalities and how those people interact with these new products.

Socializing in the "Awesome Depression"

Scott Brown wrote a really humorous article in Wired Magazine regarding how our generation would deal with a depression the likes that has only been seen by our great-grandparents during the "Great Depression."  The question that come from this half-hearted look into the future is what are we doing to prepare for the economic crash. The only point that really seems to be connecting many of the discussion I have found online is that networking will be more vital than ever before in order to find your next job. For the last three posts, I have been dealing with microblogging (specifically Twitter) and how information that an individual posts on these microblogging site can be used against them in the form of identity theft and data fraud. However, it is equality as important to maintain a presence on large social community like Facebook and Twitter to show people you are a.) an actual person and not a robot, b.) someone who has talents that can be used & c.) a "people person." As much as it pained me to use that last phrase, it really takes some "social capital" to be able to communicate with a wide array of people (like those present in an open social network like Facebook or Twittter). It would seem that this could be pretty for months to come. Therefore, it is important to use inexpensive resources to deliver your message and maintain your reputation in your field. Sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you with this mission.

Phishing on Twitter

It is a rare occurrence that I would stumble across a timely topic. However, it seems that my academic hypothetical discussion has turned into a real world threat. I've been working all day and I finished eating dinner when I see the warning issued by Twitter. The questions that I asked from the last post really seem to hit home. So, I felt that a quick response would be appropriate. (Man, 3 posts in one week!!!) The question of "do identity thieves twitter?" seems to be yes after this threat hit the network. Even though it was using the oldest phishing trick in the book and I hope nobody fell for this trick. But, I believe this is a scary point in the microblogging phenomenon. I gotta believe this is the first step in more sophisticated attacks on identity in the Twitter network. Because it is really easy to post information in this format, we can accidentally expose information that could be a treasure trove for social engineers and identity thieves. This would expand the damage that can be caused by black-hat Twitterer from harmless to harmful. The purpose of this post is not to scare anybody. The purpose is to create awareness about this situation and I hope people will be more careful about what they say on a microblog.

One More for the Road...

Twitterkins lead me down another thought path when he tweeted me "who'd impersonate me when they'd gain nothing? Do identity thieves twitter? Like, to make it 'look good?'" I really don't have a good answer to this question. Also, I figured that this question deserved more than a simple 140 character answer. So, I figured I would poke this topic one more time to see where it leads. I have to preface all of these statements by saying that Twitterkins is Paul F. Tompkins. He seems like a nice guy and technical whiz. First, it's pretty obvious that spam has appear in the Twitterverse and other microblogging communities. The question that comes to mind is why spam when the spammer has nothing to gain. Could it represent something viral? Could it make the spammer feel that they are control of the network by feeding it information or misinformation? Could it make the spammer feel that he or she lead the network to another source that could make the spammer money? Being a sociologist, I can not speak on motive. I can argue that it depends on the type of community, the information being shared and where the links used by the spammer take the community member. Second, let's approach the second question asked by Mr. Tompkins, "do identity thieves twitter?" I would focus on the term "identity thief." According to the wikipedia, an identity thief is anybody that uses fraud to "stealing money or getting other benefits by pretending to be someone else." So, yes there are identity thieves in the harmless sense on Twitter. I can interact (and have had conversations) with the characters from the West Wing, Studio 60 and Mad Men. I doubt that the actor or actress who plays those characters are typing the Twitter posts. The benefit to those playing the characters on Twitter is that they get to play the characters they see on television. Mr. Tompkins is a famous cable show and someone could want to "play" PFT. Others have done research on being a "fakester" by adapting another persona. I have not research on this subject nor read deeply this research. The question I have is "is somebody using Twitter for a more harmful purpose (stealing money from others, causing harm)?" I doubt it, but I can't speak for certain.

Identity Validation Online

I was having a conversation with my wife about the Twilight Zone. Every year the Sci-Fi channel as a 24-hour marathon of most of the episodes. My wife was telling me about her favorite episode "The Changing of the Guard" and how it makes her cry everytime she sees it. During this talk, Paul F. Tompkins (PFT), the host of Best Week Ever and @twitterkins on Twitter was doing a running commentary on the episodes that were playing on Sci-Fi. I sent him a reply telling him my wife's favorite episode and he replied back quickly asking me about the episode. I explain the plot and told my wife that I was telling Paul F. Tompkins about the episode. She asked me the $64 million question... "How do you know its him?"

Hmm, that's a fair question. I told her that there were contextual clues present in previous postings done by @twitterkins. For example, he was having a Twitter conversation with John Hodgman (@hodgman on Twitter). PFT presented himself as an authentic to Hodgman and Hodgman validated him as being PFT. Hodgman talked about his Twitter experience on This Week in Tech. Therefore, I had good idea that I was replying back to PFT. However, let's say I had no real world methods of validating a person's online identity. How would I validate that the person I was talking to was actually the person I was talking to? If I had no real world contacts with the person, I guess the simplest way to validate the person's identity would be to look for virtual artifacts that already have been validated as being created by the person and look for similarities between those artifacts and artifacts presented to me by whomever I am talking to.