Life With Alacrity

A blog on social software, collaboration, trust, security, privacy, and internet tools by Christopher Allen.

Flames: Emotional Amplification of Text

I've been a moderator/host/forum leader for various bulletin boards and other online communities since the early 1980s; first on CompuServe, later on GEnie and AOL, and then professionally in the early days of Consensus Development. One of the behaviors that happens in online communities and that I rarely see elsewhere is flaming -- where one member writes an extremely inappropriate, typically passionately worded attack on another. Flaming behavior can hurt an online community.

On Being an Angel

In the last month or so I've received a number of links to Life With Alacrity as a venture capital blog, and to myself as a venture capitalist. However, I don't consider myself a venture capitalist. Instead, I am what is known as an "angel investor". This week has also seen a new topic enter the blog zeitgeist: the topic of reforming or reinventing venture capital. This topic was initially raised by Dave Winer, followed by Robert Scoble, Doc Searls, Jeff Nolan, Michael Arrington, Thatedeguy and many more.

Collective Choice: Competitive Ranking Systems

by Christopher Allen & Shannon Appelcline [This is the third in a series of articles on collective choice, co-written by my collegue Shannon Appelcline. It will be jointly posted in Shannon's Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities online games column at Skotos.] In our first article on collective choice we outlined a number of different types of choice systems, among them voting, polling, rating, and ranking. Since then we've been spending some time expanding upon the systems, with the goal being to create both a lexicon of and a dialogue about systems for collective choice.

Collective Choice: Rating Systems

by Christopher Allen & Shannon Appelcline [This is the second of a series of articles on collective choice, co-written by my collegue Shannon Appelcline. It will be jointly posted in Shannon's Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities online games column at Skotos.] In our previous article we talked about the many systems available for collective choice. There are selection systems, which are primarily centered on voting and deliberation, opinion systems, which represent how voting could occur, and finally comparison systems, which rank or rate different people or things in a simple, comparative manner.

Systems for Collective Choice

by Christopher Allen & Shannon Appelcline [Shannon Appelcline is a friend and colleague of mine at Skotos, an online game company. Over the last few years we've had many discussions about how decisions are made, and how our society collectively makes choices. The origin of these discussions have varied from "what makes this board game work?", to "how can we give our players more control of our online games?", to "how do we make decisions in our company?

Dunbar Number & Group Cohesion

There is some more excellent research this week by Nick Yee and Nicolas Ducheneaut in the PlayOn blog. Again, their research provides good insight into social group dynamics as they appear in online games. I last mentioned their research on guild sizes in my blog post Dunbar & World of Warcraft where I compare the distribution of guild sizes in Ultima Online vs PlayOn's results from World of Warcraft. However, both distribution tables suffer from a variety of biases due to the nature of the different game designs, many of which are discussed in the commments in the post.

SynchroEdit: Simultaneous Editing for the Web

For the last several months I've been working on a new open source project that I've been calling SynchroEdit. SynchroEdit is a browser-based simultaneous multiuser editor, useful for "same-time" collaboration. The basic concept is that it allows multiple users to WYSIWYG edit a single web-based document, all at exactly the same time. SynchroEdit continuously synchronizes all changes so that users always see the same version. They can also see each others' changes as they type, see where each user is currently editing, and see each others' changes by color.

Dunbar & World of Warcraft

In my initial blog entry on the Dunbar Number I presented some statistics on group sizes based on the online game Ultimata Online. In it you could clearly see the power-law (pareto) curve, with diminishing returns at around 150, with most groups being 60 in size: More recently, Nick Yee and other researchers at the PlayOn Blog have been researching the behaviors of players in the popular World of Warcraft online game.

Cheers: Belongingness and Para-Social Relationships

In yesterday's All Things Considered, NPR commentator Jake Halpern questions why you feel like you have a relationship with the characters in your favorite TV shows. His answer: "That's because you do." This idea is interesting not just to help us understand how we relate to imaginary characters, but also to correlate with our own understanding of Dunbar Number relationship limits and how they might relate to this concept. In his commentary, Bostonian Jake Halpern considers two academic ideas, "belongingness theory" and "para-social relationships", and how they affect the relationships we develop with television characters.

Extrapolative Hostility in the Online Medium

ExtrapolateTo infer an unknown from something that is known; conjecture.– The Random House College Dictionary Mick LaSalle, an acerbic movie reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes a regular column "Ask Mick LaSalle" in the Sunday paper, where he sometimes allows others to vent their displeasure at his movie reviews. In this week’s column he says something that I find very accurate to my experience with the online medium: As for why people get hostile when they hear a differing opinion, I go back to Spinoza’s definition of love and hatred.

Apple, AirVideo, and Immersive vs Ambient Media

I was reading on Slashdot a discussion about iTune 4.8 and its new capability to purchase videos from the iTunes Music Store, when I read two things that just made me say "duh" with their obviousness, yet I'd never thought of them before. Both of these "duh" moments were inspired by the comments by an anonymous Apple engineer with the handle As Seen on TV: Everybody's wrong about the video iPod thing.

New Sidebar: Recent Bookmarks

If you read my blog through an aggregator, you may not have noticed my new sidebar "Recent Bookmarks". It is a list of web pages that I've found interesting enough to annotate using the del.icio.us service. It is useful if you want to have an insight into what future blog entries I'm working on, as links will often show up there before my actual blog posting is out. You alternatively can view my last 10 del.

Future Topics

I've been working on an ambitious list of topics that I'd like to cover over the next year. I offer them to you here so you can have some idea the areas that I am thinking about. Office Architecture for Innovation -- Over the years I've built or converted three offices to my specifications. From this I have learned a number of things about about how to create a productive environment innovation-oriented businesses.

Dunbar, Altruistic Punishment, and Meta-Moderation

In my post about the Dunbar Number I offered some evidence on the levels of satisfaction of various group sizes based on some empirical data from online games. There I was able to show that even though the Dunbar Number might predict a mean group size of 150 for humans, that in fact for non-survival oriented groups the mean was significantly less, probably between 60 to 90. I also offered a second hypothesis, that there is a dip in satisfaction level of groups at around the size of 15.

User Content, Social Software & Online Games

Shannon Appelcline, my colleague at Skotos (an online game company that I founded in 1999), has been writing for several years a sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly column on the topic of game design called Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities (rss feed for all Skotos Articles including TT&T). His latest column Social Software & Gaming: User Content discusses issues of user content and user facilitation that apply both online game communities and social software:

Voluntary Health Associations & Social Software

I'm a keynote speaker for the FVHA (Future of Voluntary Health Associations) Conference in Atlanta today. My job is to give to this community a gentle introduction and overview of concepts and products related to Social Software and Social Networking. (My slides are here - 6.6MB .pdf) In my research about this community, I find that they have some unique and interesting problems. The attendees of this conference are a collection of VPs and national directors from major Voluntary Health Associations such as American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, March of Dimes, etc.

Dunbar Triage: Too Many Connections

As someone who now has over 171 professional "connections" in my LinkedIn Profile, 198 "friends" on Orkut, many more non-intersecting friends and acquaintances on   Tribe.Net, LiveJournal, and other social networking services, as well as a plethora of correspondents that I only interact with via email, I am trying reconcile a mismatch between my connections and my own Dunbar Number. How do I maintain meaningful relationships with over 300 people?

Google Suggest Dissected

As a former Macintosh developer, I've always been disappointed with the user-interface of web pages. The state of the art of UI design moved backwards with the advent of the browser -- we traded connectivity for ease-of-use. With the advent of pages written in Flash, some better user-interfaces were created, but at the important cost of things like being able to copy text, have semantic and meta-data information imbedded in web pages, searchability, etc.

Tracing the Evolution of Social Software

The term 'social software', which is now used to define software that supports group interaction, has only become relatively popular within the last two or more years. However, the core ideas of social software itself enjoy a much longer history, running back to Vannevar Bush's ideas about 'memex' in 1945, and traveling through terms such as Augmentation, Groupware, and CSCW in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. By examining the many terms used to describe today's 'social software' we can also explore the origins of social software itself, and see how there exists a very real life cycle concerning the use of technical terminology.

JotSpot: Application Wiki

Joe Kraus, one of the co-founders of Excite, and new blogger has long been rumored to be working on a new wiki tool. Today at the Web 2.0 conference Joe finally unveiled JotSpot, a new type of wiki that they have named an "Application Wiki". JotSpot appears to be not only an advanced wiki, but it also moves the predominantly text-based wiki toward being able to handle structured data and web application development.