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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Musings about the internet: How can internet dialogue be improved? etc.

I've been writing this since six months ago, but most of it (the long paragraphs) was written in the past ten days and is the more thought through part. (Skip down to it!!).

I originally posted it here: (!/pages/Pat-making-Michael-Making-a-Ryan-Shea-making-a-Ryan-Shea-fan-page/300671176426?v=info&ref=ts) as part of a joke, but added more as ideas blossomed. Barely anyone frequented the page (I can see this; I'm page admin), so I doubt anyone saw it.

It's basically about what the title states: Musings about the internet: How can internet dialogue be improved? etc. I may be grossly wrong and out of touch, but I blogged it in case I'm on to something. It's now in a safer spot (Facebook may delete the page). Also, I'm leaving in three days for South America and won't be online for three months...!

Facebook culture is created by us.

Social networking is the future. It will take over google. It will take over the internet.

The internet will spread beyond our computers as computers spread to the rest of our lives.

Think about it. Waking up in the morning looking at your facebook wall on the wall of your bedroom. Being able to change that to whatever you wish at the wave of your hand. It follows you wherever you want it.

Big Brother? Hardly at all.

We are controlling ourselves. We are Big Brother.

What is Facebook? Here's what I say:

*Facebook is memories.

*Facebook is a unique digital media platform.

*Facebook: your profile is your identity; your home page is your community.

What makes a good social media site?
-One that gives the user the best sense of identity.

What I find odd is how Facebook profiles are generally more similar than Myspace profiles are similar. Right? I mean, in regards to customization... well maybe not. Maybe Facebook has greater customization in that in emphasizes the text more rather than the visuals. And since the varieties of text in Facebook are greater than the variety of images or text in Myspace, Facebook gives greater variety, and thus a greater sense of identity to the user.

Additionally, based on findings from experiments and observations, it seems the popularity of Facebook Fan Pages derives from the title/text, rather than the picture, of the page.

This corroborates my hypothesis on Facebook's attention to text as opposed to images is what makes it popular.

And that by "becoming a fan of a page", you are simply creating your identity, much more so from the title (the words) than the page's image.

On the subject of internet hatred.

The question is, can I make a political discussion group that will be solely for peaceful discussion? Let's analyze this.

My hypothesis:
As the group's popularity increases, the internet hatred increases.

Anonymity + Physical Distance + Rare and Ephemeral Dialogue = Hatred as a Public Performace + Freedom to Experience Humanity without Fear or Anxiety

As the group's popularity increases,
-The number of people in the group increase,
-The amount of people who don't know each other increases,
-The anonymity of the group increases, and
-The physical distance between group members increases.

And also because of the increasing popularity,
-The stream of dialogue speeds up,
*Leading to,
-Increasingly ephemeral dialogue
(However, since comments notification take one directly to the conversation, it is not exactly ephemeral.)

(On a side note)
And also because of the increasing popularity,
-The amount of discussion subjects will increase,
*Leading to,
-A Long Tail distribution of discussion subjects.

If the popularity reaches such a level that the speed of the streams of dialogue makes group discussion impossible,
It would essentially cease being dialogue.
It would be the one who makes a post versus the masses who comment on the post.

How can internet dialogue be improved? What is an "improved" dialogue?

What if a chat system was set up so that the people in the chat room each had a corner of a page and it was more dynamic, multi-dimensional, and interactive? It would be based on chatting in an actual "room", with things in the room to enhance conversation. For example, people often have conversations with the television on or with pictures on walls. What if we applied the same concept in internet chat rooms, and we would have video and pictures available? Currently, conversations are made in a "stream", going one way, with little way to interact with specific people or groups of people within the chat room. (However, Facebook's addition of liking comments makes this somewhat available). Imagine, let's say five people having an internet conversation. The members are arranged in a star formation on a blank page- or, rather, arranged roughly in a circle, but since there's five of them, a star shape can be drawn. They can post something for all the group to see, which will end up in their "spot", or they could post something for the whole group, which could end up in the middle, or they could post something for an individual person, which would appear under that person's "spot", or they could post it in the middle and only tag two or three of the five people in the star. Pictures and videos could flood the entire "room", and be shown simultaneously and resized, like in real life. The basic premise here is to make conversation as similar as possible to "real life" and even enhance it. A real life conversation between five people in a room doesn't feel like a stream of words, but more like the dynamic conversation I described.

I also came to the revelation that internet conversations were probably predisposed to be put in the "stream" system we have now. It's all based on books! Books have been written in this "stream" for centuries! It was simply habit that made the first programmers think to make internet conversations into "streams"! In previous centuries, books were the cheapest way to put information on the page. In the past century, however, prices have dropped far enough for additions to books: color, color photographs, larger text, different font styles and sizes, much more pages, bigger pages, smaller pages, and even holographic pictures! All these improvements weren't just for embellishment, but for ergonomic improvement, as well: making reading easier, more efficient, and more engaging. Information didn't have to be in the "stream" format anymore. Better formats were developed for the brain to process information better, like info-graphics, charts, graphs, captions, big fonts for big ideas, and small fonts for small ideas. So, what if we took the same concept and applied it to improving "streams" on the internet, like instant messaging conversations, email inboxes, blogs, etc.?

Internet conversation, for example, has gotten cheaper. Now is the time to add to the conversation experience and enhance it. How can internet dialogue be improved?
I want to think about the book concept a bit more. Spoken language has existed for tens of thousands of years to up to 2.5 million years ( Either way, it has predated written language by a lot, as it could have started between 8,000 and 3000 years ago ( Also, our brains aren't designed for reading, but, rather, speaking ( So, this whole "stream" based internet dialogue based on books is most likely a cultural artifact rather than something reflecting our genetics. It may not be the best for us! Sure, I couldn't find an internet article corroborating that statement, but, even without empirical data, it seems to me like written language was based more on efficiency of cramming in as much information as possible into books as opposed to efficiency in mentally processing information. Is there a better way to mentally process written language than the form of a book, or the form of the "stream"? If, for example, resources were unlimited, in what ways can language be communicated other than speaking and listening?

However, the way we input the information online is currently set up in the "stream", much like real life. With pencil and paper, we write in a "stream" format. What I'm typing write now is in the stream format. Sure, online, I can go back and revise it, order it by subject and organize it as opposed to leaving it as a stream of consciousness, but the format is still a stream. I suspect, though, that new and easier ways of inputting information could be developed using voice, interactive displays, etc. But still, what about novels? Is a stream the best way to express the story in a novel? Well, it might just be. But just because novels might best be expressed as a stream doesn't mean that other information should be.

Why should internet conversation be improved? What's wrong with the way it is?

Well, I'm pretty sure it's not just my opinion, but, in one example of why it should be improved, internet conversations can be very much full of hatred and obscenities. Quoted from Mike Wesch, the "anonymity, physical distance, and rare and ephemeral dialogue leads to both hatred as a public performance and the freedom to experience humanity without fear or anxiety." ( So, with this in mind, would "improving", or rather "changing", internet dialogue get rid of the freedom to experience humanity without fear or anxiety? I find this strikingly similar to recent ideas brought up about the declining amount of privacy on the internet. Is the internet fated to become less private? Are internet conversations fated to be less hateful and more empathetic? It just might be the case. Although our privacy might decrease online, our ability to empathize online might increase. However, this article ( suggests privacy is not on the decline, but instead we will be able to control our privacy better. Not only by building a "fence" to protect our digital selves, but also by building a "fence" around those we don't want encroaching on our digital selves. So, the ability to empathize on the internet might increase with the ability to keep our privacy on the internet. Essentially, the internet may become more and more like social life outside the internet. Or, rather, social life outside and inside the internet will mesh together.

And privacy and empathy may seem like unrelated concepts, but, rather, they are absolutely not. Facebook, for example, is "socializing" the web:

And with the socializing of the web comes many questions regarding privacy on the internet, like mentioned in the article. And Facebook has integrated Facebook Chat directly into its window. It records chats, and displays things you are doing on Facebook into the chat. For example, if Bob and Jimmy are chatting, and Bob comments on one of Jimmy's pictures, it will appear as a notification on the chat window for Bob and Jimmy to see. Another example of the intertwining of privacy and empathy comes in public conversations, wall to wall posts, and such. Like I mentioned above, I have seen hateful conversations online. Am I obstructing their privacy? Were there emotions displayed I wasn't intended to see? Sure, one could say "that's their fault" for not foreseeing the effects of arguing in public, but with their emotions charged, they may have forgotten about where they were conversing. "There are no natives on the internet" says Wesch, meaning that we are all experiencing it for the first time, trying to figure it out, and playing with ideas of how to behave, communicate, and interact online. In any case, emotionally charged dialogue illustrates how internet users' privacy and ability to empathize is connected.

What if the "interactive conversation" I described above becomes a reality, and the pictures and videos that are put onto it stay there? Then the conversation just turned into a readable, seeable, and watchable memory, capable of being "recalled" with the click of a mouse. Who can see this memory? who sets the privacy settings? Whoever sees the memory, will witness (or remember) the emotions expressed with the conversation. Laughter, sadness, anger, etc...

Oh shit.

This is was Google Wave tried to do: a huge mixture of media into one. But it was terminated... :(
However, my idea of the interactive, multi-dimensional dialogue as opposed to the stream dialogue would be an addition. But, from what I've heard, Google Wave was terminated because the engineers behind it couldn't figure out how to fix all the bugs... :(
It upsets me. It truly does. If they had trouble with Wave, my idea (which, now that I think about it, I would want Wave's concepts added to my original idea!) will be much more of a daunting task!
I suppose we could just wait ten years for the technology to get better. Wait ten years for internet to become less private. Wait ten years for internet dialogue to be more empathetic. Of course, this waiting isn't static- not at all. It's a dynamic, complicated process of tinkering and playing with how the internet works and behaves to get to where my vision will come to fruition.

How are conversations organized?

In current internet dialogue, it's chronological. But what about real life? How are real life conversations organized? recorded? remembered? How can we "digitize" the remembering of a conversation? Instead of scrolling up a chronologically sequenced dialogue box to remember a conversation, what if there were multiple ways of remembering it? multiple ways of organizing it? A search option, for one example, could sieve through the dialogue for material of a certain subject. And the program used to organize the conversation would, after a while of use, be "trained" and be able to find changes in the conversation for you, group them, and present you with available memories in the conversation.

Back to my design of a different form of internet conversation:
I envisioned a new design for Facebook's home page. Instead of a stream of... wait a second. Facebook's home page isn't a stream. Well, it's still shaped like a stream, but it's not as sequential. Of course, one could revert to the old school stream and click "Most Recent", but the "Top News" is not organized solely on time. It's... essentially, organized empathetically. The people you interact with most on Facebook turn up most on your homepage. Facebook assumes you have stronger emotional attachments to the people you interact with more, and thus puts them more often on your homepage. Geez. They've got it understood. They know what their doing damn well.

Well, anyway, my envision for Facebook's home page is still quite different. It would still operate using time, and keep things which happened in the past few days on the homepage like Facebook currently does. It would also probably use the same factors Facebook currently uses for deciding which things end up in the homepage: time since posted, interactions with Facebook friends, "popular" news items, posts, statuses, pictures, etc. But the stream wouldn't flow up to down. It would flow front to back. Things "higher" on the homepage would be towards the center and more clear (clear as in brighter and more distinct). Things "lower" on the home page would be towards the outsides and more faded. It wouldn't be a spiral, but more chaotic (and aesthetically ergonomic, of course). And news (what else do you call the items on the homepage?) would overlap- but aesthetically and ergonomically, with clearer and "higher" news overlapping the faded and "lower" news. A new news item would plop down on the page somewhere towards the center- but not dead on center- and make waves across the homepage screen like when a rock is thrown into a pond. The ripples would fade and wouldn't last long, and the purpose is to get you to notice it without disrupting too much of whatever you were reading. Too often, when news is added to the homepage in the current system, the whole stream shifts downward, interrupting the reading of a news item. In my system, however, the news already present would remain in position and simply fade a little more (gradually, too!). The short lasting wave bending the screen won't disrupt conversation too long- or at least not long enough or big enough to be annoying. Additionally, news items of similar topic or similar friend groups would be clumped together in "gravity wells", depending on the strength of the topic and strength of the friendship connections. Looking at the current Facebook page also makes me wonder where to put everything else. Many things, all the buttons: account, homepage, profile, options, settings, help, about, different apps, and other permanent buttons can be faded and off to the side, basically the edges of the pond. When you want them, you hover the mouse over them, it brightens, then you click it. More dynamic, time sensitive, and empathetic buttons: birthdays, events, pokes, friend suggestions, re-connect suggestions, even ads, will be in the pond and flow, but distinct from the rest of the news so they stand out as "rocks in the pond". The "higher" they are to you (more relevant), the "higher", or more distinct, they will be in the pond. These dynamic buttons will also hover around similar news items or friends. For example, ads will be around similar news, like if a swim team friend posts a status saying they have a swim meet this weekend, an ad might be near it advertising for Speedo (if you swim, of course). Birthdays and events will be more like rocks in the pond that stay there until the birthday/event passes and pokes will be rocks in the pond until they are removed (or poked back). Again, I repeat for emphasis, dynamic buttons will be close to relevant and similar items and/or friends.

But what about mobile phones? Aren't mobile phones getting more use in the internet than ever before? I've heard that mobile internet will eventually replace laptop and stationary computers. ( and ( Will the small screen affect my design for internet dialogue and Facebook's homepage? I think it would. Even my laptop's screen might not be optimal size for my ideas. Are streams going to stick around then? How can we replace the "stream" while respecting the size of the screen? Maybe we won't have to replace the stream, per se, but we can just accessorize, and modify it to enhance conversation. I can think of one solution: holograms. Imagine the conversation or Facebook homepage appearing in the air above your phone as you type on a projected keyboard from your phone to a flat surface. The air would supply ample room for my ideas. Privacy breach? Haha, quite possibly, but with holographic technology, maybe we can make it so it's only viewable from one angle, so privacy can be kept. And same with sound- hearable only from one angle so privacy can be kept. That's wicked! Oh! and the flow of the "stream" would be nothing like a stream anymore- even the "pond" analogy I used might not be good enough. It would be a living, moving web of connections, ideas, media, and dialogue floating in the air projected from your cell phone organizing itself based on friendships, subjects, location, and more.

Conversation: Changes in Internet Dialogue:

I've discussed my ideas to change Facebook's homepage. But what about conversation? My idea applies more to chat rooms and group conversation, but it's worth discussing nonetheless. It would be similar to my Facebook home page idea, with new entries dropping like a rock into a pond towards the center. By the way, I like this "pond" analogy I created for Facebook's homepage and internet dialogue, as opposed to a "stream". Sure the pond is flowing back, away from the front, but it's still cool. Anyway, users in the conversation won't be at the center or edge, but more in between the center and edge. I don't want it to look too much like a vortex, with everything spiraling towards the center, or too much or things spiraling out to the sides. I described much of this already but I'll do it again. Users can post on their "spot" or "rock in the pond", comment on other users, comment on posts, post a new "rock" in the pond for people to comment on, and tag people in posts and comments. (Why tag? well, if the group chat had seven people in the chat, but you wanted to direct a statement to only three out of the seven, but still wanted all seven to see it). Conversations in the pond do not have to include everyone in the pond, much like in real life: conversations between two people in a room of seven people do not have to include everyone in the room. The whole pond, let's say, the seven people in the conversation, can also have its privacy settings adjusted, so only the seven people can see it, friends of friends, everyone, or custom, but respecting whoever of the seven placed the strictest privacy settings. In the pond's conversation, older posts will slowly fade into the background, eventually disappearing from sight but not from "memory". The items faded in the background may have many variables determining their organization, position, size, fade, color, etc. Whatever the current topic is, previous items that are relevant to the new items will float around the new item, but faded. Let's say Michael, Nathan, Sophia, Eilene, and Peter are conversing in this pond and have been for a while. "What's for dinner?" was the very first subject, but then fades out to new conversations. We got distracted from trying to decide on dinner and started talking about swimming. Several subjects later, Peter says "Wait a minute, we still haven't figured out dinner." Once that is posted, the past dialogue about what's for dinner pops back up automatically onto the screen and hovers around Peter's new post. The past dialogue and posts are faded, but are visible. They act as memories being recalled as a subject is brought up again. The memories are visible for everyone to see without having to scroll through the conversation to see. In the current "stream" model, users would have to scroll all the way up the conversation to remember what was discussed, or new members to the conversation would have to scroll all the way up. But with my "pond", the items are brought up automatically- even for new members of the conversation. Let's say Johnny was invited to the conversation later and says, "Hey guys what are you having for dinner?" Automatically and instantly, the past statements will hover faded around Johnny's new post, for Johnny to see the memories of those he is conversing with. Older, faded, items that were floating around a returned subject can be commented on and brought back to the front. One may think this would screw up the chronological organization, but it's important to remember that internet dialogue won't be organized solely by time any more, but many many things of a constantly varying importance. Conversation may bring up faded posts that are organized by friendships and associations, time, subject, color, size, font, style, pictures, video, audio, or possibly many more things that may not even be created yet. The dialogue is a living thing that makes its own organization. This all reminds me of this: Mike Wesch's Information R/evolution YouTube video.
Except that I'm applying the "information revolution" to internet dialogue.
So far, I've only mentioned fade, and not text size, font, color, or etc. Maybe different characteristics of the posts can be part of multiple dimensions of organization. Even better, these things can be interwoven with the emotion of the conversation- the pond being a pool of emotional dialogue.
Multiple pictures and videos can be shown simultaneously in the pond, much like in real life. Also, a post can be changed to "float" in the pond so it stays there for people to comment on, whether it be text, picture, video, or audio. The buoyancy of posts could even be adjusted manually instead of automatically- although at the thought of this, I'm starting to wonder if this "pond" is getting too complicated- much like Google Wave. Sure, in ten years the technology could be developed, but the human ability to use it has to be considered.

What if one wants to scroll through the past dialogue for fun? Well, my imagined pond would certainly be capable of doing that and designed with respect to that function. If you start scrolling, the pond turns more into a vortex, and increases the effect of time on its organization. Newer dialogue will be towards the "front" and closer to the edge of the screen, while older dialogue will be towards the "back" and center. It will show the chronology of the conversation, with bubbles of memories (similar dialogue by subject) floating around the vortex at their respective points by subject. Once you stop scrolling, the vortex turns back into a pond, meaning the organization of the dialogue has switched focus from time to subject. Also, once the scrolling has stopped, the memory bubbles that were around the vortex get a little bigger, but faded, and surround their respective subjects, as dialogue memories floating around similar dialogue memories.
As previously stated above, searching through the conversation could also entail a search function, acting as a sieve, picking up desirable rocks in the pond. Scrolling could also be switched from organized by time to organized by subject, user, tone of conversation, amount of misspelling and grammar errors, or any other imaginable thing. The desired function is simply entered and it organizes.
One could also scroll through past dialogue with only some of the members of the pond. Let's say Michael searched the pond's time vortex for dialogue between just him and Nathan. The vortex would contain dialogue solely involving Michael and Nathan and whoever else who happened to be in that conversation with Michael and Nathan (or whatever search settings are set to). Bubbles around the vortex would still be memory bubbles organized by subject in respect to where the subject of the dialogue in the vortex, but they won't be just with Michael or Nathan (or one could change that search setting).
However, are internet conversations lengthy enough to necessitate, require, or work well with such organizations? Short conversations with two people are simple enough. But it's nice to have for lengthy conversations, even if it's just two people, or for conversations with many people. Another idea, is to use past conversations as data for the organization, such that current dialogue could bring up memories of dialogue from days ago, or even years ago. This could be applied large groups or one on one conversations just as well. Memories involving only two of the seven people could surface in large group conversation ponds only visible to those two people involved with those memories.

On the subject of empathy in internet dialogue.

I've heard of a study that suggested that only 50% of emails are read in the tone implied by their writer. How can tone be better expressed online? Across internet culture, people have been creative in ways to express emotion, like using emoticons :D :P :( o.O ;) ;* =_= -_- :/ <3>

Also, using "lol", "lmao", "rofl" are ways to show humor and the lightness of the tone of the conversation. Often I purposely put "lol" or :P to make the conversation lighter when I don't feel I've adequately expressed my tone in the conversation. Sometimes I feel like I trivialize empathy in a conversation and make it feel less significant because of the internet shorthand used. But this is more of a feeling I get when doing it.
Internet dialogue may make it challenging to express emotion in conversation, but it certainly can be done.