Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ello, it's me

I’m sure this has been noted many times, but it strikes me that one of the central conventions of sitcoms is that people have a single location where they tend to meet: Cheers, Monk's Café, Central Perk, Paddy’s Pub, etc. 

All social-media platforms aspire to be this: the one-stop shop for your connecting-to-friends-and-family needs, your hourly drip-feed of emotional sustenance. And for some that’s how it is: many millions (tens of millions? hundreds of millions?) of people almost never leave Facebook. 

But splitting social time is more the norm, I think — certainly IRL it is. You may have one place where you’re more likely to meet your friends, but it’s probably not the only place. Thus Foursquare: Where are my people hanging out tonight? 

And in a larger sense, what matters is not where we connect, but that we connect, yes? Thus Google integrates chat into mail, and Apple integrates phone-network text messages with their own iMessage network. Thus also iOS’s Notification Center: maybe your significant other sent you an email, maybe he sent you a text, maybe he Skyped you, maybe he DM’d you on Twitter — who cares? The point is: you have been addressed by someone you care about; you want to answer. 

And your smartphone works pretty well as an aggregator of communications — as long as someone initiates contact with you. But — and behold the power of FOMO — what if your friends are having a fantastic conversation on Twitter but you’re over at Ello? Or vice versa? Wouldn’t that be terrible? What if they’re even exchanging thoughts in the comments on someone’s blog? You’ll never find them there

So: where’s Foursquare for social media? Foursquare for online conversations? A heat map of my friends’ social activity? I doubt that any of the existing platforms want to write APIs that would allow that to happen, but wouldn’t it be cool? 


  • RSS feeds and IFTT cover a lot of this meeting ground for me.

  • Your heaven sounds like my hell. I don't want my friends and family to read what I write in blog comments. Some of the social-political opinions I express there would hurt some of my relatives personally. (Did Norm really want his wife coming to Cheers to hang out with the gang?) And I know, pseudonyms - but there are reasons I don't like that solution either.

    So, security through obscurity is a good thing, but that's exactly what you want to get rid of. Of course your idea would be "completely optional," but we all know how that goes. I think it leads towards one big homogenized social realm.

    P.S. Are you sure you're an introvert?

  • Glen: I don't see how RSS feeds and IFTTT could tell you where conversations are happening at any given moment?

    Aaron: About being an introvert, I said it would be cool, I didn't say I would use it. ;-)

    But what got me thinking about it was learning yesterday — just yesterday! — that some friends of mine had had an interesting conversation on Google+ (of all things) back in 2011, and I never knew about it. And that made me think: How could I have known about it?

    As for your own inclinations: isn't pseudonymity the only real answer? If you're posting to public social media under your own name, you're searchable. Certainly a Foursquare for social media would make it easier to find you, though, especially since, while you could opt out of such a service, if your friends didn't they could still lead people to you.

  • Sure, pseudonymity is a stronger solution than security through obscurity. If someone's really motivated to find out what I think about stuff, motivated enough to do a Google search and then filter out all the other Aaron Grosses, then fine, they can read what what I think even if it hurts their feelings. But that's a whole different level of motivation than having my comments pop up in a Foursquare thingy. I just don't want to shove some of my political opinions in the face of relatives who'd take them personally; it wouldn't be a crisis if they found out, though. Maybe they wouldn't be offended at all, I don't know.

    Regarding that 2011 conversation, I'm even more bothered by extent in time than by extent in netspace. That's the reason I used to use pseudonyms, actually: I didn't care who knew what I said, I just cared about when it was known. If typical Internet conversations were ephemeral - as they would be in a perfect world - then the "problem" you're addressing would still exist, but you wouldn't have discovered it, because that 2011 conversation would have disappeared.

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