Category Archives: Social Networking

“My name is ___, and I’m leaving Facebook.”

A good friend of mine just sent around an email, announcing that he will quit Facebook. He agreed that I put it up. Maybe somebody wants to use it as a template for announcing his or her own withdrawal from the social network. Also, I’m hoping to update this post later once my friend told me how he’s dealing with his new-found isolation/liberation. If you’ve gone through similar experiments, please share your experience. Continue reading

Peaceful co-existence – Social networks and niche communities

Last Saturday, I went on a Deutschlandradio Wissen talk show to discuss online communities. The other two speakers were Sarah Krohn, moderator at, and Mark Ralea, community and marketing expert. What it came down to was an interesting discussion of large social networks versus smaller niche communities. Continue reading

250 words on spelling conventions in texting and twittering


A few weeks ago, I came across a few intriguing questions in a job application form. Not just the usual inquiries about motivations, strengths and career plans, but questions that you could argue about in a pub or write books about. Below is my answer to the following question: “How much does it matter, if at all, that texting and twittering treat spelling convention with little respect? Please limit your answer to 250 words”. At the end of the post, you’ll find more food for thought. Continue reading

Friendship based on algorithms

how do you know

What’s this now? A “News Feed” and a “Live Feed”? Facebook has changed its interface again. I didn’t immediately understand. Apparently, the Live Feed includes everything that’s currently going on in my social online world, and the News Feed just features some highlights. In other words, Facebook believes that a lot of the stuff my friends are up to is simply not relevant. Fair enough, I heard a lot of people say that the previous News Feed had become slightly overwhelming. But how does Facebook know what the interesting stuff is? Continue reading

Teachers, students, technology – New and shifting boundaries


I just quickly want to advertise a brilliant article I found in yesterday’s Guardian supplement about how new communication technologies change the relationship between teachers and students. The starting point is the most recent moral scandal in the UK which saw a female teacher being jailed for having an affair with a 15-year-old girl. A large number of the text messages they had exchanged were used as evidence in the case.

The Guardian article by John Henley offers a very balanced and nuanced perspective on how teachers and students have started to interact through new technologies. It’s all about boundaries that were once clearly established and now seem to become permeable. It’s about questions such as “Should I be friends with my students on Facebook?” or “Is it okay to send them emails?”.

When teachers and students suddenly meet in some virtual space, there are risks for both parties. So far, most public attention has focused on teachers who find themselves ridiculed on some video website or photo blog. Germany recently witnessed a court case in which a teacher had sued against an online portal which allows students to grade their teachers. The case was lost, but sparked a controversial discussion about any kind of rating websites, from doctors to travel companies.

As several cases cited in the Guardian article illustrate, students are also at risk when teachers use these new media to approach them in an indecent fashion. Oftentimes, social networking sites and other virtual spaces cannot offer enough control over the interactions they enable. This problem clearly extends beyond the teacher-student relationship into online child pornography in general.

What does it mean to be a teacher?

The bigger picture here is not so much about being ridiculed or indecent contact with minors. It’s about the changing role and self-understanding of teachers in an age of free-flowing information. It will no longer be possible for them to guard their classroom as a little island where they enjoy unchallenged authority over what knowledge gets circulated and how students learn. Teachers and schools will need to adjust to a new information environment in which they provide guidance on how to deal with these massive amounts of information.

That includes opening themselves up to new communication technologies (social networking sites, email, etc.) and figuring out a way in which they engage with their students while maintaining important boundaries.

The trouble with Facebook friends


There’s plenty of talk at the moment about the impact of social networking sites on friendship. Bring up the topic at a party or during a coffee break and you will certainly trigger quite a lively discussion. Some will tell you that Facebook is the end of friendship as we know it. Others will proudly report how they reconnect and interact with so many more people than they used to and how that certainly cannot be a bad thing, can it?

I would offer a boring compromise. My close friends are still my close friends and there will always be only a handful of them. Similarly, there will always be a few hundred others I’m just not that close to – whether they now populate my Facebook newsfeed or not. In other words, social networking sites are unlikely to change how important a person is to me, but they will change the way I interact with them. It adds and alters the mix of communication channels.

0=not a friend, 1=friend

A general problem in this discussion whether it’s good or bad to have 583 Facebook friends is this inconspicuous little word “friend”. It’s quite a tricky one. Facebook deals with friends in a binary fashion. 0=not a friend, 1=friend. It might be a cultural thing that Americans see the world that way, but it’s certainly a bit too black and white for the rest of us. Of course, for a critical commentator, it is then quite easy to jump at a friends list with 583 people and announce the end of friendship.

Would it help if Facebook had a more nuanced friends classification scheme? Let’s say, it could range from “most awesome best friend in the world” to “randomly met at a party on my way out”. While this would certainly make it more clear that not all Facebook friends are created equal, it would be terribly unfeasible, as I recently discovered.

Friends on a scale from 1 to 10

I decided to do a bit of social management on my Facebook friends list. My newsfeed had been full of stuff and people I wasn’t interested it, my privacy settings didn’t distinguish between different groups of people, and overall I wanted to have a bit more intimacy with those close friends I care about. So the idea was to create different lists (you can do that) and assign friends to them according to how close I am to them.

This failed. I must admit that rating friends according to some one-dimensional scale is a terrible, useless, and probably quite unethical idea. From a practical point of view, I had to give up after 10 people or so because it took me forever for each of them to decide where to put them. Funnily enough, while I was thinking about them and where to put them, they tended to move back up the scale and I felt the urge to contact them immediately.

So in the end, I ended up creating lists according to how I know the person, for example high school, work, and so on. This turned out to be quite nice because I can now tune in to different social news streams from different stages of my life. I also ended up deleting a few people because – despite all my research attempts – I could not figure out who they are and how I know them.

UK parties and their online campaigns – A self-experiment

Downing Street Twitter

For a foreigner without voting rights, British politics can be highly entertaining. Not sure I’d be saying that if the hullabaloo coming out of Westminster was the “politics” I had to grow up and old with. But for now, I feel quite amused reading through all those political commentator blogs and newspaper headlines to discover day by day how politicians in the UK violate the moral and legal law of this land, stage one scandal after the other, and spend tax payers money on luxurious necessities. Good fun.

Now let’s assume for a second I was actually eligible to vote in this country. If nothing happens – and something might as well happen – the next elections will be in June, 2010. Who would I go for? Frankly, I don’t know right now. If I went by who puts on the better political scandal show at the moment, it would clearly be Labour. Well done, Gordon. But since putting on a political scandal show tends to say little about a party’s “being an effective government” show, I’m not convinced.

What may convince me though is the parties online efforts to lure me via campaign spam emails and newsletters. This is convenient for them because they don’t have to go out on the streets or give bombastic speeches; and it is convenient for me because I can just sit here. So from today on, I will subscribe to the main parties email newsletters. Actually, I do it right now. One second…


It’s done. I have now subscribed to the email newsletters of Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. While I was at it, I also subscribed to the Twitter feeds from Downing Street, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems – and Sarah Brown for some society news.

So far, only the Liberal Democrats have confirmed my subscription with a nice little email. Pretty effective, too, because they tell me how to donate and let my friends know. I just didn’t like that I had to sign up as a “supporter”. Listen, Lib Dems, I’m not a supporter yet. That may come if you keep sending me nice emails and tweets. But I like that you put your website on a Creative Commons license.

The other two parties are too busy spamming my twitter feed with simplistic party announcements or “policy statements”. Especially the Conservatives are frantically typing away at more than one message an hour (not this morning though, so now I know they don’t start work before 10:00 earliest). Dear Conservatives, you should be sending me an email saying how much you welcome me on your mailing list. Same goes for you, Labour Party.

By the way, I once tried the same with the German Conservative Party (CDU). After going through a very thoroughly implemented double-opt-in process, I have received zero emails from them as of now.


Anyways, I will see what happens and if any of these British parties convince me to vote for them. Or just that they put some thought into how to attract voters online. In the meantime, I’ll also keep reading what my local Conservative MP is up to in Parliament, through a fun online service called They Work For You. One of his last requests before going cycling with his family in Lake District was

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the monetary value was of defence costs orders arising from cases determined by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in  (a) 2007,  (b) 2008 and  (c) 2009 to date.

Alrighty then. Through another nice service called Hear From Your MP, he let me know that he has a regular ‘spot’ at Starbucks near the “Winchmore Hill Sainsburys check out” and that everybody can go look for him there. I might just do that…