danah boyd on social technologies and metaphor
- Sociable technologies are all built on metaphors. They are often an attempt to model a set of practices already known in everyday life. Yet, as models, the technologies are not the same as the metaphors on which they are based. The result is an entirely new form that encourages entirely new practices....
- My frustration with academics, press and conference organizers exists because the primary way to handle these new technologies is to address them in metaphoric terms. This perspective comes from a distanced vantage point.
- What is special (and magnificently more frustrating) about blogs is that they stem from many metaphors, including newspapers/magazines, journals/diaries, and log notebooks. No wonder people are up in arms screaming that it's not like a newspaper, it's like a diary! or vice versa. They're both right and wrong. If you're stuck in a metaphoric understanding of blogging, the conflicting metaphors are problematic and discount your approach to the system....
- This is precisely why it's bloody hard to study/discuss these technologies without being a practitioner. Distance is valuable as a researcher, but it's also limiting. You need to engage with the culture at a deep level in order to study it. Because digital technology cultures are so peculiar, you need to be involved at an intimate level. Being a lurker is just not the same. It is the practice of engaging with these technologies that makes you able to move beyond the metaphor.
Okay, I've practically quoted the whole thing, but you get the idea. You should really read her whole post, as it's the usual insightful social-technical observation from her. And it's why we are having the bootcamp at the BlogOn Conference. Because you can't sit around talking about "rss" or "blogs" or "social networks" as terms when you don't use them, don't know what it means to interact with people through them, don't see personally that by acting one way, or another, what the implications are for those actions.
In fact, I spent two hours on the phone with a business reporter yesterday, explaining what social media is, giving examples, frameworks, exposing to this woman what to her is invisible activity on the web, and yet, upon exposure, she suddenly got a little of it. I was also laying out why companies need to engage with social media so they can converse with the people formerly known as their customers, but the main thing I kept coming back to about the conference was that if you are going to have a business with social media, you must engage personally, and not from a distance.
There is using a social technology to see how the technology works (blog as a tool, social network as a tool, etc) as well as how the interaction is (blog as interaction, social network as interaction between people). They are just tools in a way, but the word, "blog" for example, gets used to describe the tool, the output of a single blogger, the writing within a post, the interaction across blogs, and on and on. The happens because people who are engaging in it, as well as those who are not, need a common word to describe the tool and activity and interaction and output. But blog represents all these very different things, and then of course, what is in a blog user's head, as a framework for the tool and activity and interaction and output is very different than the framework in the head of a non-engager, a lurker who is distanced and unfamiliar with all the aspects "blog" represents.
So the bootcamp is an attempt to get a few people using the tools, interacting with each other in the room through the tools, interacting with those outside the room, and seeing the results. It comes from my belief that using is imperative to understanding the many aspects of these technologies, and from my experience that seeing how exciting the interaction is only comes from using.
Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:41 AM on July 02, 2004