Invasive Species and Social Media – micro post

There was some resistance to the analogy of “invasive species” to possibly describe Triberr on Twitter today. It was a very interesting thought offered by @Karen_sharp in comments to my Ecological Argument post yesterday. I just wanted to be clearer on just what invasive species are to me.  Karen has pointed out that they are species that lack natural predators and therefore have an advantage in the competition over resources – in this case attention in the social media sphere.  And some expressed concern over the moral sense, the accusation that something or someone is trying invade or takeover. Both are interesting aspects. For me, I find invasive species scenarios fascinating. When a species simply overruns an ecosystem simply due to circumstance, through radical and unexpected introduction, issues of functionality and systemic cohesion really come to the forefront. Many of the great “successes” in culture, and crazes or trends can be considered invasive species from a certain perspective. It only gets complicated when we start valuing what has been changed by these great sweeps. Sometimes even ideas can be considered invasive species, perhaps necessarily so.


30 thoughts on “Invasive Species and Social Media – micro post

  1. I know you’ve got strong feelings about Triberr (as seen in prior posts) – and as I’ve said, I’m still “checking it out”. But I’m not sure how it might be analogous to species that “lack natural predators and therefore have an advantage in the competition over resources”. On the other hand, I’m not thrilled with what Triberr is right now – and would like to see it revised to give users more moderation control. In that light, there is a lot of promise there for it to be a tool that facilitates curation.

    • Thanks Ric. I did not realize that you are less than trilled. I really don’t have super strong negative feelings towards Triberr. In fact I’ve told Cristo that I would consider using it for Tonner Doll for which it seems to have some application. What I do have is strong interest in the entire impression chasing phenomena in Twitter, of which Triberr seems to play a part. And I also have a deep intellectual interest in viewing social groups or platforms as living systems, and in general taking an “ecological” approach to thinking about curating or nurturing them. This post and the one before it actually was born not of a lasting preoccupation, but rather out of much wider conversation about community and norms that I unexpectedly had with Triberr founder Dan Cristo on #usguys yesterday. Dan pushed for a vision of cultural relativism, and I perhaps for something still relativistic, but more norm oriented. In the end Triberr is really only of interest if it opens up the discussion to much bigger and broader ideas.

  2. My thoughts on invasive species, in my comment on Kevin’s post yesterday, were primarily about the risks of trying to intervene in clumsy ways, in an extremely complex ecosystem, of which the problem of invasive species is an example.

    The heart of the analogy, though, it seems to me, is in recognizing that the same species in its native ecosystem does have predators, and is in a healthy competitive balance with the other species in its niche or adjacent niches. When the same organism is in a new ecosystem, then the idea of out-competing the native species for resources is simply like ‘oh, wow, how successful an evolutionary strategy this frog has’. It’s over-successful and kills everything else, because there’s nothing that will eat the invasive species.

    Kudzu is a prime example of an invasive species, which has literally taken over much of the American Southeast, literally smothering almost all other pant life to death, including trees, with the way the kudzu vine climbs up the entire height of the tree and then strangles the tree to death. Native species can go extinct, due to invasive species.

    In this context, probably the best technology-business example of an invasive species is Microsoft in the 90’s and early 2000’s, and maybe now, more and more Google may be becoming an example. Another example would be McDonalds showing up everywhere in the world now, and sickening people who never used to have the diseases attendant upon the high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt Standard American Diet.

    If the invasive-species analogy with Triberr holds up, it’s not that it’s currently an invasive species. It’s that it might become one. If the analogy holds, it would be like when kudzu first began naturalizing outside of the suburban yards where it was purchased and planted as an ornamental planting. It would be like when Google was still establishing a foothold in the search market, and losing to AltaVista.

    Also, if the invasive-species analogy with Triberr holds up, it would also mean that Triberr-type strategies are completely and precisely appropriate and successful in a different ecosystem. In that theoretical “native” ecosystem for Triberr, there would be other businesses or business strategies to keep different “species” in balance with each other, and natural predatory forces on them as well.

    Lastly, if this analogy holds up, then that “native” ecosystem might be a prior time in business-history, perhaps an older one based more on broadcast-advertising. But again, if this analogy holds up, then the assessment may well be that the strategies Triberr is developing might be excellent, ethically-appropriate, and entirely-successful…. but perhaps they don’t belong on Twitter.

  3. ah, typo above, my apologies —

    “…then the idea of out-competing the native species for resources is NOT simply like ‘oh, wow, how successful an evolutionary strategy this frog has’. It’s over-successful and kills everything else, because there’s nothing that will eat the invasive species.”

    • Karen,

      I think what is missing from huge cultural examples like McDonalds or Microsoft is really the idea of a distinct ecosystem that has been invaded, though i certainly can see what you mean. Is Twitter an ecosystem, or made more clear by analogizing it to an ecosystem? That is maybe the first question that needs to be answered if the invasive species analogy is to have traction. The examples of introduction, early stages of development, are interesting though. Every bright business idea, of course, hopes to be something of an “invasive species” tearing through the market place without predators. It shouldn’t be a bad word to businesses. I remember an early response from Triberr co-founder Dino at my first Triberr thoughts. He said something like “Thank you so much for calling Triberr a ‘phenomena’, Dan and I have worked very hard at this.” Phenomena, trends, crazes. These are invasive species of a sort.

  4. Whew! Good to hear. You know, sometime, we dip in and out of the stream – and I was getting a different impression – so I mistakenly thought you were gunning for Triberr. OK, so let me wrap my mind around this for a sec…
    IF Triberr somehow makes the living system less so – then we’d have to lump in with any and all tools that automate tweets, such as Hootsuite. But even so – both systems do later what the actor puts into motion earlier – yes?

    • I’m sure because of the thoroughness of my argument some people on Triberr may FEEL that I am gunning for Triberr. Dan Cristo was under that impression until recently. Triberr is for me emblematic – though a very interesting case history – of a larger moment in Twitter, one ultimately driven by market forces I suspect. But yes, I do believe that scheduled tweets, and auto-DMs and other automated services are part of this question, any time that “social” is simulated usually under the auspices of “reach”. And Dan Cristo himself – going back to Triberr – appeals to the change that Google made to previous human curation of the web. He seems to see that Triberr can transform the inefficient “social” curation of content on Twitter into something that automatedly takes its lessons from Google’s algorithmic totalization. These are really important and big questions. Triberr only allows us the opportunity to talk about them.

  5. Breaking my comments up into pieces, think that will lend for a better discussion.

    First Idea: Is twitter an echo system?
    I believe yes, it is. It is an echo system of ideas, conversations, memes, and individualism vs group cohesion (more on that in a sec). The scarce resource is our attention, or our “mind share” as Seth Godin would say. We are all competing for attention, either to be recognized as original, unique, or to be seen as part of a group, (I am a mac user, I am a Jetta fanboy…). The reason for being unique, or to be part of a group may be to sell a product, tout ones specialty in a field, gain readers for their blog (to spread their message, meme, or idea) or any number of other motivations.

    I am chasing an idea now.

    I keep thinking of a concert, and how people at first want to part of the group, to take part in the wave, to sing along with everyone else at the concert. But at some point, the group, the meme, inhibits individual action, like going to the bathroom. All of a sudden, being part of this huge collective turns into a negative for their individual need.

    Ok, will post the next stream of consciousness thought in another comment, so they can be individually commented on (in keeping with Kevins #micropost idea)

    • I do like the idea of a Twitter as an echo-system (though loving the idea of it as an ecosystem even more, interdependent support and action because I’m a systems guy and the because use of “meme” lacks rigor sometimes). But the issue of “mind share” as resource is a complex one. Yes, Triberr or other automated simulations/augmentation of social do compete for mind share, but the idea of their proponents is that they also increase mind share. They are not just taking slices out of a limited pie. They are in fact growing the pie. This may be true in some senses. But there are thresholds that are being crossed. There is of course the Dunbar’s Number that we are always bumping up against in one way or others. There is literal space in a stream. But there also seems to be another threshold. Yes, we can grow the Twitter pie (or our Tribe’s pie) much bigger, but only at the expense of changing the recipe – and here maybe Karen’s appeal to McDonalds in interesting. Triberr and such are McSocial in a way. A mass-produced augmentation of what is really meant to be something of a dining experience, or at the very least a food sharing experience.

      I very, very much like you individual vs. group concert analogy, and being restricted by group. It has correspondence to Charlie’s concept of fire-size.

      • I was actually misspelling ecosystem with my echo-system. I am slightly dislexic (yes, that can happen), but I usually just think of that as adding a bit of salt and pepper to my thoughts, the spice of life.

        I had not made the correlation to charlie’s fire-size, but now that you say it, I see another dimension to what Charlie was talking about. The concert analogy paired with fire-size makes sense. Will let that roll around in my mind for a bit, see if anything comes of it.

        • lol. I thought it was a creative play on the word. I’m a horrible speller and suffer from some sort of paralexia, so I completely understand.

    • I am certainly not as experienced then most of you guys when it comes to social media. However, I don’t agree that Twitter is an echo system. Twitter is the soil or water or the environment where the invasive-artifact lives in.
      IMO what makes the echo system is the “Social-media-using-people” their opinions and their discussions. If you take this part and move it to an environment like Google+ well you would have the same ecology as twitter. however, if G+ provided better ground for growth you would probably see a much faster growing echo system or invasive creatures.
      Does it make any sense to you guys?

      • I realize I was spelling ecosystem wrong, but you carried on with my spelling Shahram, so now I feel justified. Perhaps the new spelling will spread 🙂

        I feel there is a “native language” that develops in each unique space on social media. Even within a hashtag, there becomes accepted norms, ways of interacting, expected reciprocity that can not be expected outside of that group, hashtag, or social media property.

        It is true G+ may be fertile ground, but some of the components of twitter, how it forces us to restrain our thoughts, put them into a limited character string, actually benefit many types of conversations. It allows for a give and take, allows people not as verbose, or only have a few points to make, to join in the conversation.

        I think any time you switch mediums, you change the dynamic, and possibly escalate the level of the relationship. When I start an email exchange, and carry that on for a while, then suddenly switch to instant message, the relationship has changed. It may be deeper, more urgent, more temporal in nature. It has changed, for better or worse, or possibly just different dynamics, but it has changed.

        • It seems we are on the same wavelength here. And great thought about how even a hashtag (or even a 1 hour chat) has its own subculture and feel. I do not deny that G+ is very fertile ground. Very. But it is ground for something else.

        • Chris I guess I would also add that an “echo-system” and an “ecosystem” are very different things. I like the pun and the mutation. But it is also worthwhile to keep track of the strong difference.

      • Shahram,

        I kind of disagree that you can simply move what happens on Twitter to G+ (or any other platform). It isn’t the people, its the medium. It is the medium that creates the narrow selection of message possibilities and shapes just what it is that they have to include or exclude. Platform is super important to community shape and action, I believe.

  6. My second idea: What if everyone did what I am about to do? Would that benefit the community?

    I also keep thinking of Emanual Kant and this little tid bit I remember from my one philosophy class:
    (Formula of Universal Law) of the moral imperative “requires that the maxims be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature”

    And how I understand it, means, if everyone did what I want to do, would you mind other people doing this to you.

    As I apply this to twitter, for me, it means what if everyone did this form of automation, like an auto dm, would it loose it’s meaning if everyone did this? Would it help or hurt our twitter echo system if everyone did this? Well, I have already seen the answer for auto dm, and that is, it renders direct messaging almost worthless, clogs your message inbox with irrelevant messages, and taxes our attention such that many people start ignoring their direct messages all together (mainly social media gurus who are doing this to each other).

    So, this is a bit like a crowd performing the wave. Some people start doing it, then others, and it builds and grows, spreads like a viral meme in the population, “we are all doing the wave now guys, start doing it too”. This now really inhibits the individuals action like trying to go to the bathroom, do their own action like simply standing and watching the band.

    This now leads me to my third and final thought, Automation vs manual action.

    • Chris, so rare that Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be invoked in conversation about real things in a manner that feels real. One of the problems with the imperative is that when applied to Real Life, so to speak, the parameters of definition are so wide that it feels incredibly hypothetical. But with Twitter there is a kind of Game of Life aspect because of the limited grammar of interactions. We can easily imagine what it would be like, as you say, if everyone auto DM’d or if everyone Triberr tweeted out for that matter. So, though I shy away from the wider logic of his Imperative, it is much more interesting in these kinds of more artificial, or human/tech instances.

      And I think it goes straight to some of my fears with the automation of social and Impression chasing. There is a culture of Twitter use building up, a kind of burgher class of social media, that is producing new values of what “social” is, it seems with out much self-reflection or criticism. Part of this is just the march of the progress of the medium, as market forces become more invested in it and have to find or create anchor points in it. The market needs to be engaged for it to grow, and this influence will necessarily bring in older, less-than-ideal values (perhaps eluding to what Karen is thinking about in terms of invasive species, values, ideas, techniques without natural predator in social media).

      But part of it is also our own doing. Our own choosing it great to bring in some of those robust powers honed through decades of marketing management. But let us not also become blind to the differences that are unique to social media, the curious powers that it alone in the history of the world possesses. We do not want to efface these absolutely unique possibilities, these “rain forest” of ideas and techniques that come about only when human beings have found a new way of relating and finding meaning. There is in social media the opportunity to actually change what marketing is, and what business is, and in the end make it even more successful, I believe.

      • Kevin, I agree with you “… fears with the automation of social and Impression chasing.” I think this is the desire to get a grasp on twitter, to pop you head up from the group you are talking with, to see who else is listening/watching what is going on (people trying to define the assumed third in the triangle). What I think they are grasping for, is the Orient in the OODA process, a way to figure out what is working and what is not.

        The way (I think you and I agree on this) you and I measure it is in the quality of the relationships we establish on twitter. I realize in real life, I don’t try to ascribe number values to each of my friends to determine which are closer than others, or “worth” more socially, or are well connected. This is a free flowing thing, that good sales men have been trying to describe for decades.

        I think what is needed, is a way to visualize interactions more effectively on twitter. One possible solution would be to give it a bit of pervasiveness, a way to wrap ones head around who might be listening in, or at least easily see who was and currently is in the conversation.

        But, this would change the system we know. It would make something simple, more complex, and thus increase the already steep learning curve of twitter.

        Number of impressions on twitter, is almost completely useless, I guess I am trying to justify why I see so many people try to use it to back up a statement of success.

        • Chris, I can modestly see your point. It may have begun with the “orient’ of OODA, but it quickly has passed into some kind of status space. A lot of that was fueled by Klout, but it also is pushed by the “industry leaders” who because of their followings have certain kinds of numbers of influence. What people are orienting themselves to isn’t “successful” action (conversions), it is simply number reach that is comparable to some sort of social ladder. At least that is the way it is impressing itself upon me.

          There is an aspect of businesses needing to have some sort of ROI measurement substitute, but I’m not even reading people pushing for large impression reach for certain businesses. It is more just for themselves, their personal branding it seems. That these people also represent social marketing wisdom though carries with it perhaps a development of poor strategy giving.

  7. Third and final thought: Automatic vs Manual

    Ok, I looked for the matrix reference, but could not find it. In Matrix Reolutions, Neo and the mayor of Zion have a conversation in the bowels of the city, talking about the balance of machines controlling man vs man controlling machines. We depend on things like computers, to empower us to do more, exert our choice on more things.

    There is a balance between us controlling the machine, and the machine taking over and causing problems (feedback loop would be one, conflicts in two automatic codes competing for the same resources, other great examples I can’t think of at the moment).

    Pair this idea of automation, with the idea of being in very large group where meme’s can spread easily, like people doing the “wave” at a concert.

    Let us picture one persons action. They program their phone call them with a loud ring tone, to leave 15 min early so they miss the rush of leaving the parking lot. That works well for them. Now imagine many other people have the same idea, lets say 15% of the population of the concert. No longer is it slightly annoying to hear the one cell phone going off, but now you have a deafening roar of cellphones going off at random intervals close to 15 min from the end of the concert.

    This minor annoyance of one person, all of a sudden in a public group setting, is completely disruptive, counter productive to the concert, and defeats the purpose of the initial cell phone alarm setter (leave before everyone else).

    My biggest point with all of this, is an individuals action, on a minor level, can seem innocuous. But when in a group setting, where the idea of this can easily spread, the automatic pre-programmed action can render the idea, and goal of the idea, ineffective or even harmful.

    I imagine if 50% of the people in my stream used triberr, would I lose out on connecting to people. My answer is yes (in the way triberr currently posts, and if all those were on the automatic setting).

    I am not trying to pick on triberr, and think something like it could add value to the echo system, if there were was more human action involved, less automation.

    If for instance all tribe members had to manually vote up a particular blog over other blogs in their tribe to get auto posted, that would be the bloggers driving the car, controlling on a deeper level the machine.

    If there were checks and balances that did not make a posts shares go exponential (like a virus), but instead forced people to choose between limited resources to promote a post, it could help to make the better blog posts be shared (and force the voting people to read before they clicked share).

    My problem is with a self perpetuating system (set it and forget it), that floods an information channel with the possibility of exponential noise without a built in volume switch. By adding some game theory components, voting, scarce resources of votes, it would not allow self promoters or spammers to flood a info channel, and could actually help improve the sharing echo system.

    • Chris,

      Great ideas at the end of this comment. I love the notion that Triberr could be improved by game theory and forcing members to chose between resources, perhaps this could also help select tribe size (again, a competition over resources). In fact from what I heard from Dan Cristo he might even really like the idea.

      As to the Comparative Imperative analysis of the flooded stream, I brought up to Dan UV that in looking at his past day’s stream at the very least 16% of his tweets were auto-tweets (probably more like 20%). He gladly embraced it, saying something like “I’m engaged! I have my Twitter friends! There is no wrong way to do social media.” It doesn’t take much to realize what it would all look if everyone had this approach. 1 out of 6 tweets would be robot tweets. In fact as the norm spread, it would be higher. It already humors me in an odd way when in #usguys we are in the middle of a rich conversation and one of those auto blog post tweets float through. It is like seeing a soda bottle bob by on an otherwise picturesque stream of water. Of course this might be the future of Twitter, as Twitter has even sticky paid tweets lined up for us. But it doesn’t mean that these are the values we should, or even need to embrace.

  8. One last short comment.
    Scheduling tweets aside, automated replies other than out-of-office is just embarrassingly bad. If one doesn’t have the time nor the energy to do it. Why deceive people!?
    It is like having your answering machine call people up and play a pre-recorded message! I don’t think people would tollerate that.
    It just brings me back to the old discussion of value. what you do should bring value or appreciation. Just meaningless auto-replies is filling the stream with garbage!

    WOW, I guess, I was feeling strongly about the subject! Sorry about the strong language and tone! 🙂

    • Completely Shahram. Auto DM is actually a really good example. It seemed like a good idea at one time. “Hey, I’ll just save some time and do or say what I would others do or say anyways.” And then somehow it began to spread. I guess some guru posted a blog post on how great it was, and that post “wisdom” was forward to others. And then suddenly social media “pros” were setting it up for themselves and others. And then, as Chris mentions, the whole thing continues on without anyone who has it realizing how it affecting others. I used to take it upon myself to actually tell people that auto DMd me that this is pretty unsocial and almost every single of them said “Wow, I completely forgot that that was on, I agree!” and removed it. When we put something automatic on there is just a very real tendency to let it blast away, not even realizing what is happening. And here the analogies to ecological pollution I think do hold.

  9. “Invasive species” definition could easily be applied to any and all forms of progress that human beings have ever made. When we switched from hand embroidery, for instance, to machines that did the work for us, we actually embraced the “invasive species” called machines into our daily lives, making it easier and convenient. Whenever we look out to objects or ideas that could make things easier for us, we are actually making way for the invasive species. That would necessarily lead to many more ideas that spring from this great ocean of reasoning. Are “invasive species” all bad? Could we calssify some of them as being a necessary evil? How many categories or sub-species could “invasive species” actually have? Wouldn’t you say that human beings actually “invite” the invasive species through our own laziness and quest to make things better?

    Triberr, or for that matter any other tool, might be an “invasive species” but the argument, IMO, is whether it should be classified as one of those that are necessary evils or those that we can easily do without if we were not so lazy. Granted that Triberr is a new idea, an idea that is wholly based on the assumption of give and take. “You share my posts and I share yours.” Not a bad idea in itself. However, the issue now is, how are the people using Triberr or Auto Dm’s or any other tools actually lending their own vices and virtues to these tools? I believe it is never the tool or the creator of the tool that is solely responsible for any negatives that may arise. The people, the human mind, that is making use of them in the context of their own perceptions, morals and ideologies are equally responsible for its evolution and its effect on the living systems interspersed with it.

    I like the suggestions that Chris put forward. (By the way, is it not a point to ponder that the human race seems to always needs checks, balances and rules to ensure their correct use of tools no matter how big or small?)

    I hope I made sense. 😀

    Regarding Auto DM’s, recently, a person who I interacted with after he sent me an Auto Dm, told me that he had attended a Social Media conference and the speaker there had “advocated the use of Auto DM’s as a wonderfully innovative tool” in the Twitter environment. There you have it. 😀

    • Rabab, as a small point on the relationship if Triberr to auto DM founder Dino Dogan is pretty explicit in his praise of auto DM. He calls it a sin, but claims he is too “lazy” to contact his new followers. He recommends you put your auto DM on blast:

      For me, the alternative would be NOT to send a DM since I’m too lazy to greet everyone with a personalized message at the “door”. So I send an automated DM because it’s better than nothing.

      Putting your automated dms on blast

      At least he is thinking about and through auto DMs (how to make them effective), but the conceptual link between Triberr and simulated social is pretty solidly attested to. This is also the way that Dino represented Triberr to me, it is for those that just don’t’ have the time or in this case are too lazy to be “social” in person.

      This is not a mortal sin of course. But perhaps we can see the cloth from which it all has been cut.

      If you read Dino’s post on auto-DM Blast in the context of your thought on necessary evils and laziness:

      Could we calssify some of them as being a necessary evil? How many categories or sub-species could “invasive species” actually have? Wouldn’t you say that human beings actually “invite” the invasive species through our own laziness and quest to make things better?<

      I think you will find that you both are talking about the same thing, but from a different valuation.

  10. This has been an amazing discourse to read. I particular keep thinking about your statement Kevin about judging. All critical thinking depends on making judgments.

    I see that you are keeping an open mind and watching the tool evolve. Maye it has a use for our clients, our businesses, But I agree with you that social media is most powerful when you take the opportunity to engage too. Not unlike commenting on blogs.

    Sharing content that starts conversations is brilliant. These exchanges can be like the pony express or like talking on a phone. Both speeds have their strengths. I spent 10 hours a day, Mon-Sun, for over a year actively engaged in real time tweeting. I love live tweeting as on-the-street journalism, like from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade but I also keep in touch with all who mention me, send me emails, post on my wall, or send me any kind of message within 12 hours and be on top of engagements.

    I think of tweets as a literary form. I write in private and then share my thoughts. Making myself available for replies and short conversations within 10 minutes. This is as live as you get but with great thought going into the crafting of the tweets.

  11. I’m going to follow Chris’s lead and break my comments into pieces:

    Chris writes:

    “I feel there is a “native language” that develops in each unique space on social media. Even within a hashtag, there becomes accepted norms, ways of interacting, expected reciprocity that can not be expected outside of that group, hashtag, or social media property.”

    and Kevin agrees, saying:

    “I kind of disagree that you can simply move what happens on Twitter to G+ (or any other platform). It isn’t the people, its the medium. It is the medium that creates the narrow selection of message possibilities and shapes just what it is that they have to include or exclude. Platform is super important to community shape and action, I believe.”

    Yes, the community platform or medium is extremely powerful, partially constitutive of the kind of communities that can evolve. But I don’t think it’s all the medium. The medium is not [the entirety of] the message. There are elements of the message, characteristics of the community, that necessarily transcend the medium used. I think it is the people, not the medium.

    The question here, it seems to me, stands on a question about the Commons and the pervasive loss of the Commons attendant upon much that the modern world has created. Yes, there are differences in the common space we have had through time, from the Athenian agora, to the “gates of the city” of the Ancient Near East, to the church door of Medieval European, to the colonial New England town square, to the open-air shuks in the contemporary Middle East, to the farmer’s market near me on Wednesday afternoons, to Twitter. But there is also something essentially common among them, and that is their ability to be a Commons. And not every public place has those essential characteristics that make it a viable Commons. For example, I don’t personally believe Facebook can serve that purpose well, any more than a suburban shopping mall can.

    Personally, I suspect that the differences among social media platforms are based in how well or poorly they capture essential aspects of what makes the Commons work. I agree with Chris that there are some important ways where it’s exactly the 140 limit of Twitter makes it an extremely fertile ground for connection and cross-connection. I think 140 is one of the ways that Twitter becomes usable as a Commons.

    Given this concept, we can discuss other platforms in this way as well. I think Facebook is particularly susceptible to being an “echo system” in that it becomes quite hard, I think, to encounter anything other than your own little social world of sameness. It promotes insularity. In my experience YouTube, on the other hand, casts too large, and too “loose” a net, to function as a Commons. I use it as a reference site for video, I’m there for the video’s sake, not the comments on the videos, and if I even bother to read the comments on a video I never see the same people twice. It’s not targeted or insular enough.

  12. Which leads me to my second comment, getting back to the people not the medium.

    I admittedly have what some people might call an idealistic view of community, although I think of it more as having high standards for the potentiality of community. And when talking about Twitter, the community I love and consider myself a part of, simultaneously as global as the planet, and as intimate as a whisper. I see this community in many places, not just Twitter.

    It tends to be concerned for the welfare of others, including the environment. It cherishes human contact in our increasingly dehumanized world, but feels often more and more isolated. it enjoys delight and fun and pleasure, including ogling the latest sexy gadget. It tends to be tech-savvy and tech-hopeful, perhaps even tech-utopian, but also to recognize the value of the concrete sensual world we live in, to see the risks of this cyborg life we live, to mourn sometimes the technologically-enhanced speed of life. It hears stories like the way cell phones may be one of the factors contributing to the worldwide Colony Collapse Disorder of the honeybee, and is legitimately and deeply concerned… but also does not quite know how it would live without cell phones.

    It is very much the moment and the shift Linda Stone describes that is happening around us.

    There is perhaps more we could fruitfully say to describe this community, we may see different elements and aspects of it, and we also may not all inhabit the same sub-communities within it. In my post from the other day on my own blog, extending my first comment on this post about invasive species, I discuss this community concept a little more.

    I do think it’s a real thing, though, this online community of people who are at least as much citizens of the web, as they are citizens of the physical locale they physically live in. I think that we are as much a real thing, and a new and necessary thing in the world, as much as were the community of thinkers and writers, and merchants and explorers, and scientists and inventors, and artists of many kinds, that were the European Enlightenment. I think we are a real thing, that transcends whatever platform we may be currently inhabiting.

    While this community is not without real flaws and real dangers, it is beloved to me. Yes, I may be idealistic about it, but I do not think we are just a random disconnected conglomeration of people who are entirely subject to the shaping forces of the communication media we speak through.

    If a given communication platform is sufficient to serve as a viable Commons, then the real heart of the community, I think, will shine through. If the medium is sufficient, then the message will be more than the medium. If the medium is too obstructive, then I think the message will get lost, and all we’ll see is the structure of the medium.

  13. One last thought, about online community and the Commons.

    One of the things I think about fairly often, as I trip through the tweets and the’s and the words of my beloved community, is that we do not truly inhabit a Commons in one essential way. Someone owns the platforms we use, they are not truly public places.

    Yes, some of the platforms are more communal than others. I am thinking especially of Linux for example, and with some particular affection for WordPress and Twitter, and contrasting that with Facebook. (I can’t imagine anyone making a blockbuster movie about the development of Linux, as a demonstration of that contrast.)

    We occasionally hear discussion about how social media companies make their profit. Again, Facebook is a prime example of attention drawn to social media’s revenue model. In the same regard, I wonder about Twitter’s profitability, and if, in a worsening economy, it will need to become more intrusive and obtrusive, to preserve a viable revenue model, and if that will interfere with the Commons-like aspects of Twitter. All these social media platforms can feel very public, yes, but this is all a lot more similar to a hanging out inside a suburban mall than I like to think. We are building our Commons inside someone else’s store, and if they can’t keep the lights on in a way that can keep the Commons-functions viable, our incipient globally-intimate new way of being human will go dark.

    Which leads me back to the risks of automated social media, whether through Triberr or auto-DM or scheduled tweets or whatever. There are two risks I see, a Scylla and Charibdis through which we are sailing into the future, both of which have to do with a different way of thinking about the failure of the marketplace than I think we are used to.

    The first is, that the structures we are inhabiting will lose their constitutive Commons-enabling features needed for our community to be real and viable as a community. From an ecological point of view, we could think of this threat as a the ecosystem dying. Like the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where all the pollution that spills out from the Mississippi river has killed the organisms that used to inhabit those waters. Industrial pollution.

    The second is, that the Commons-enabling structures we are inhabiting will be strangled and smothered in a different way, and this is where I addressed my thoughts about invasive species. Take an obviously extreme conversation: we can’t hold a conversation about how one ought to live, a conversation about eudaimonia, if the McDonalds commercials are so loud they drown out the conversation. The invasive element breaks the container of the Commons. From an ecological point of view, this is the point I had about invasive species. When kudzu smothers the plants that used to inhabit the American Southeast, the native ecosystem is broken down just as thoroughly as in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a different kind of pollution – a genetic pollution.

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