Archive for June, 2009

Taxonomy of Social Networks

For the past few days, I’ve been listening to Seth Godin‘s Tribes on audiobook while I walk to and from work. It’s been a great book so far, and I’d highly recommend it to people who haven’t read it yet.

I just got to the part where he talks about the two approaches one can take in strengthening their tribe: tightening or broadening. In a nutshell, if you want to make your tribe more powerful, you can work to either tighten it, or broaden it. If you tighten, you strengthen the connections between the members of the tribe, or between the leader and the tribe membership. If you broaden, you bring new people into the tribe. It’s a bit of a quality vs. quantity battle.

Using this terminology though, we can easily extrapolate the concept to the social networks that help facilitate tribe building. Social Networks themselves can either be tools with which we tighten our personal networks, or broaden them. By looking at it this way, I think a lot of the “what is twitter for?” and other questions people have about social media can be answered with (relative) ease.


So, let’s look at each type individually:

First, a tightening network. Think Facebook, Dopplr, or Friendfeed. These tools don’t encourage you to meet new people, instead, they enable you to strengthen the connections you have with people you already know. These networks benefit from their closed nature by encouraging us to share information that many deem private (whether it be last night’s drunken photos or your vacation plans). You won’t meet new people on these networks, but you will get to know the people you do know, better.

Twitter - HomeIn sharp contrast to tightening networks are broadening networks. These networks encourage you to connect with new people, not people you already know. The textbook case, of course, is Twitter, but brightkite and most content sharing sites (flickr, youtube,, etc.) work in a similar way. For most twitter users, Twitter is a way to meet new people they don’t know in real life; people who share interests, are from the same city, or who are just really funny.

While this is all well and good from a theoretical perspective, the practical implications of understanding this categorization are huge. I’ve had a ton of friends tell me they don’t want to sign up for twitter because they don’t know anyone else using it. Or I’ve had friends who sign up, follow the four friends they already know who are on it, and then complain that it isn’t that interesting. Conversely, you often hear stories of people posting their embarrassing videos on YouTube to share them with a few friends, and then the video goes viral and their lives are ruined. Both of these represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what the tools are for.

Once you understand what the tools are for, using them becomes easy. You don’t need to sign up to twitter if all you plan on doing is talking to the friends you already have on facebook. And you shouldn’t expect to get a large following on networks which are designed to tighten your connections (unless you’re already famous).

Additionally, I think this is an important consideration for people who are building new online tools. Do you want people to use

What do you think? Is this a good way to think about the differences in social networks? Should we even bother thinking about it? What other classifications exist between networks?


While I maintain radio silence from all internet communication until the WWDC Keynote is posted, I thought I’d share a great iPhone app I discovered this weekend:

DSLR Remote

DSLR Remote from on1 [iTunes link]

In a nutshell, DSLR Remote lets you control your Canon dSLR with your iPhone. It is as amazing as it sounds. Maybe more amazing.

While even the most basic features of this interest me (you can adjust shutter speed and aperature, ISO, etc), what makes this hands down worth the $9.99 is the built in timer (they call it an intervalometer to be fancy). With it, you can take photos at set intervals in order to create time lapse videos. I’ve been considering buying a device to let me do this for a long time, but standalone devices cost around $150. Pricey. So to get one for $10 is an amazing deal, and to have it built into a device that is always in my pocket is a bonus. I really want to get into more time-lapse stuff, and plan on doing some on my upcoming move across Canada, so this is perfect.

Now, of course there is a hitch. In order to work, you need to have your camera connected to your computer, and be running the (free) server software from on1. For me, this isn’t that big a deal since I have a laptop and keep it with me most of the time, and certainly could bring it anywhere I plan on taking time lapse videos. But it does restrict where you can set your camera up while using the software. To get around this, I might just invest in a really long USB cord. One advantage to this is that it allows you to save photos either directly to your computer, or to your computer and memory card. So when your done shooting, you don’t even need to upload. Easy peasy.

I should also mention that this set up seems to be quite finicky about your order of operations. If you plug the camera in, before turning on the server software (or maybe it’s vice versa…) it won’t work. You just need to play with it a bit.

To give a bit of a demo of how it works for time-lapse videos, here is a little video of me writing this blog post. One photo every 5 seconds, condensed to 10 seconds. Also note the awesome new t-shirt I am wearing, just got it today.

I generally avoid buying apps on the App Store (most things end up being free sooner or later) but this is one I couldn’t pass up. If you have an iPhone (of any variety) and a Canon dSLR (so far it’s only compatable with Canon, Nikon soon I’m guessing), I can’t think of any reason you wouldn’t buy this app.

For as long as I can remember (probably late 2007), Getting Things Done apps have been the bane of my existence. I’ve tried them all; desktop apps like Evernote, Things, or Mail To Dos, web based services like Gmail Tasks, Action Method Online, mindmeto, and the old “try my best to remember” method. None of them worked for me.

The problem is that with almost all of the online systems, I practically needed a reminder to remember to add things to my list. Even using things like Evernote or Gmail Tasks from my iPhone, I never got in the habit of taking it out and typing in something I need to do. And to top that off, because I’ve gone back and forth on so many systems, I have piles of old to dos clogging up my accounts on all of these sites, so I never know which one to go to, and which things still need doing.

But, as if from the ashes of forgotten notes to self, a new option arises which will herald in a new era of me doing things.

Ultimate GTD App

A notebook! I’ve been using a big bulky one on and off for awhile, and it’s been working pretty well, so I decided to go buy a small one which I can carry around with me. Now, I can jot stuff down wherever I go. Yes, I could do that on my iPhone, but I find the tactile nature of actually writing something helps in some bizarre way to make me want to do the things I put on the list. Also, and I bet there is scientific evidence for this, physically crossing something off a list is far more satisfying than tapping a checkbox with your mouse.

So this notebook comes from a cool company called Whitelines who I had never heard of but they seem to be creating really neat products (if you are into pads of paper). Apparently the lines don’t show up when scanned. I will have to do a test for that. I considered getting a moleskin, but let’s face it, those are a bit pretentious (sorry if you use one, but come on, you know it’s true).

How about you, what do you use to keep track of all the stuff you need to do?

Well, change your life might be a bit strong. But “5 TED Talks that could potentially make you think about stuff for a little while” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. That said, I think these are all very good and if you haven’t seen any of them yet (a few are pretty old, but classic) you should give them a view. They aren’t short, but all are worthwhile and have great insight into the world, our lives, and the future of both.

Since I know most people won’t read this post to the end, I’ll put a question at the top: What are your favorite TED talks or other presentations? Is it weird that I watch scientific presentations for fun?

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

I’m putting this one first because of all of them, I think this is the most important to watch from a day-to-day point of view. Also, it’s hilarious. If you only watch one of these, watch this one. But do watch the others too, because they are also great. If you consider yourself creative, are a university professor, or have children, you definitely need to watch it.

“My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

“I think you’d have to conclude that the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it? They’re the people who come out the top.”

Dan Ariely asks Are we in control of our own decisions?

As a holder of a degree in Psychology, some of the examples he uses I had seen before, but the point is very important; phrasing of questions and design can make a huge difference in how we make decisions.

“If we understood our mental limitations in the same way we understand our physical limitations, we could design a better world.”

Seth Godin on the tribes we lead

Personally, I’m more of a Chris Brogan fan when it comes to social media gurus, but Chris hasn’t given a TED Talk (yet) so Seth will have to do.

“The internet was suppose to homogenize everyone by connecting us all. Instead, what it’s allowed are silos of interest.”

Ray Kurzweil on how technology will transform us

Where Seth talks about how technology is changing the way we interact with each other, Ray is foretelling the amazing transformation that will take place in how we interact with technology. I’ve been a huge fan of Ray Kurzweil since reading The Age of Spiritual Machines back in high school, and I think he offers a bold, yet well thought out, vision for the future. Even if only a quarter of the things he predicts come true, the future is going to be amazing.

“It’s not just an alien invasion of intelligent machines, we are going to merge with our technology”.

Aubrey de Grey says we can avoid aging

Speaking of the future… Aubrey de Grey says the worst pandemic in our world is aging, and we can cure it. As an added bonus, he has one of the best beards on the planet. Just because we’ve been dying of aging since the dawn of time, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

“Most people, when they hear I am predicting that a lot of people today are going to live to be 1000 or more, they think that I’m saying that we are going to develop therapies within the next few decades that will so thoroughly eliminate aging, that those therapies will let us live to be 1000 or more. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the rate of improvement of those therapies will be enough…we’ll be able to fix the things that 200-year-olds die of before we have any 200-year-olds.”