Category Archives: myspace

You in? (UPDATED 4/12/12)

Flickr photo by Timothy Hamilton

Yahoo is trying to spark random acts of kindness around the world through the 600 million people who are part of the Yahoo “community.”

They ask people to visit and post online status messages describing their good deeds, inspiring others to reciprocate and amplify their actions.

They call their effort “You In?” since they encourage those doing good deeds to add this to the end of their posts.  For example, “I just dropped off a coat from my closet at a homeless shelter, You In?” or “I paid the toll fee for the car behind me, You In?” The messages appear in that poster’s Yahoo! status and can be shared via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Visitors can also see an interactive global map on the campaign’s website at

Given that the effort encourages altruism, it is ironic that Yahoo! seeded the program by giving $100 to early participants.

The program builds on the “Pay It Forward” concept (serial reciprocity); and there was already an on-line version of Pay it Forward developed called The Giving Game.

Nick Christakis and James Fowler in their book Connected have an interesting experiment to test altruism and the “pay it forward” concept.  But for example, in an experiment they conducted of “paying it forward”, 120 individuals who didn’t know each other were paired off for five rounds of cooperation games involving groups of 4 people each. They never encountered the same individuals.  Individuals could decide how how much to share of an initial pile of money and then all groups were told what others had done, the individuals were reshuffled into new groups 4 more times and this process was repeated.  They found that for every extra dollar that a person (call him/her A) gave in round one to members of A’s group (call them B), those Bs gave twenty cents more in round 2 to their new groups (we’ll call these individuals C).  Then the C individuals each gave five cents more in round three.  This was true even though it was not reciprocity since B’s generosity was to new strangers as was C’s, since the groups were reshuffled.  Since each B individual and C joined three new individuals in the next round, there was a multiplicative impact of A’s generosity of $1.00 to generate an additional $1.05 of generosity in future rounds.  Here the multiplier was restrained by the survey design that had groups of 4, but in principle it is possible that a higher multiplier might be found depending on the group size.

Notable Acts of Kindness under the Yahoo! effort:

– “I traded in a $100 bill for 100 one-dollar bills and wrote a note on each that read: ‘Please take this dollar bill, add one dollar bill, and pass it on.’”

– “I helped an 85-year-old neighbor bring her Xmas decorations down from the rafters — all 12 boxes!”

– “I helped an elderly lady carry her groceries to her car.”

– “I am baking Christmas cakes to share with friends in need of help.”

– “I dropped off supplies at the local Humane Society and at the local women’s shelter.”

Use of technology in the 2008 Obama-McCain contest

Howard Dean’s presidential run in 2004 unlocked politicos imagination about the power of online politics to shape the race.

While Dean’s bid imploded with his Iowa rant, Dean’s rapidly growing following in the campaign’s early days convinced the media that Dean was a rising force. The Economist in a story this week notes that Dean “changed the way campaigns are organised. Using social-networking tools, Ron Paul’s supporters generated a “money bomb”–$6m in one day, shattering the previous record. Huck’s Army, an online network of Mike Huckabee’s supporters, rallied 12,000 campaign volunteers. Both networks meant that Mr Paul and Mr Huckabee stayed in the race a lot longer than they might otherwise have done….

“Mr Obama took it another step, raising more money–seen in real time–from the grassroots than any campaign ever. In June alone he raised a near-record $52m, of which $31m were donations of $200 or less. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, says that he has “succeeded in translating what was happening online to getting the vote out”. Mr Obama has 1.3m supporters on Facebook, a popular social-networking site; John McCain has only about 200,000…The Democrat is using Twitter, a social-networking and micro-blogging service featuring instant messaging (each answer, or “twit”, is limited to 140 characters). By signing up to Mr Obama’s twitters, the campaign at once signs up to yours.”

And this go-round, YouTube is placing a newly important role.’s (of the Black-eyed Peas) “Yes we can” video has gotten some 9m views in six months

and the McCain Girls’ “Raining McCain” video got 1.9 million hits in 4 months. Obama’s videos on his YouTube channel garned 52m views to McCain’s 9.5m on his channel. Several million of McCain’s hits came from his sleazy campaign comparing Obama to Paris Hilton ; which inspired Barack to launch his “Low Road Express” (mocking McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” mantra). Even Paris Hilton hit back at “white-haired dude” McCain with her bikini-clad bid for the “pink house.”

Barack’s speech on race in America has been viewed 4.7m times on YouTube in its entirety, while Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary sermons have also been seen by millions. YouTube moderated highly interactive debates among Republicans and Democrats during the primaries, and has now asked YouTube users to submit 2-minute videos explaining why they support McCain or Obama (with the prize being a trip to the convention).

And it is not just YouTube. The conventions promise to also feature”Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, My Space profiles and Flickr…” Obama sent an e-mail one week ago to supporters indicating that they could sign up to be the first (several million?) to receive an email or a text announcing his choice for vice president.  The real benefit of getting this million person list will come near Election Day: “What Obama is creating is this army of individuals, these grass-roots activists, who are out there trying to change the world in 160 characters or less,” said David All, a Republican techno-political strategist.

It appears clear that something transformative is happening, but not enough careful research has helped us to understand the social consequences of this media, other than the fact that YouTube and cellphone cameras mean that future candidates will have ever diminished chances of privacy without one mistake being aired for everyone to see.

But will the new technologies help to stoke the 9-11 Generation’s interest in politics (that Bob Putnam and I have written about). Will the technology enhance people’s ability to make connections with others active in the campaign or weaken those ties relative to “old-world” technologies of political parties and rallies and door-knocking? Will the technology make us more likely to stay involved after the campaign or not (evidence on the latter front may come from a September poll issued by the National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Index for 2008)? And will the new technology exacerbate class and racial gaps in the patterns of political participation (or see this link) or ameliorate them? Brave new worlds indeed….

For full article, see Economist’s “Technology and the campaigns: Flickring here, twittering there” (August 16, 2008), including the fact that more of the online role comes from the millennials (those born between 1978 and 1996) who comprise 50m voters, are 90% online and two-thirds of whom are on social networking sites.

The on-line threat of Meetup to voluntary associations? used to be the only Internet-driven game in town where Americans could find others who shared their interests and meet regularly with them face-to-face (F2F) locally. [BTW:’s home page has an interesting feature for anyone wanting to watch social capital growing — it shows real time as people across the world sign up for a group or RSVP to attend one, or a new group is formed. Mesmerizing.. Well, actually less mesmerizing than Jonathan Harris‘ “We Feel Fine” project which scans the blogosphere for how blogophiles are feeling and portrays it with beautiful visuals, but the Meetup data is capturing real civic engagement instead of raw emotions.

Meeup also has a neat video on their home page that shows how Meetup helps individuals find others to meet with.] Meetup has also expanded in new directions, providing resources for Meetup organizers to help them to recruit others, run good meetings, etc.

In addition, Meetup is trying to mimic some of the resources of pre-Meetup groups, to federate with each other, form alliances, etc. Say that the chihuahua group in Denver and the poodle group in Denver (and other Denver dog Meetups) want to collaborate to fight a new proposed leash law in Denver, Meetup Alliance helps them do this. MeetupAlliance, in any interesting approach, actually lets groups ally with each other, not limited to Meetup groups: one can include Google groups or Yahoo groups, Facebook Causes, or MySpace groups. One can see a dynamic list of the largest alliances to-date (at this point Ron Paul, and an alliance of women-helping-women groups).

In the same way as Craigslist has caused newspapers to hemorrage cash (as they used to get a lot of money from want ads that are now often listed instead wtih Craigslist at free or reduced rates), one wonders whether Meetup might be the nail in the coffin of bricks-and-mortar chapter organizations.

Voluntary associations used to do several things:

1) provide options for individuals to meet regularly about their shared interest

2) have political clout through numbers

3) select officers/leaders through their members

4) meet annually or quarterly at conferences to learn about what was happening in a field, form social capital, etc.

5) provide educational activities: books, pamphlets, courses, etc. that are offered to members to further their knowledge about the topic of the voluntary association (be it nursing, or home-schooling, or …).

Meetup used to just do #1 (arranging meetings). Now they do #2 (enable political clout through affiliation). #3 seems somewhat of a no-brainer (it would be easy to have electronic votes of members and position statements). #4 might be a challenge, although presumably there may be good event-planners and coordinators that would collaborate with Meetup to offer #4. I’m less clear about whether #5 is easy to contract out, but with a more transparent platform that shows how many members there are in each alliance or group, it may be easier for freelance writers to market their books or materials to Meetup groups that share an interest in what they are writing about.

Meetup writes in their FAQs for MeetupAlliance: “Can existing Chapter-based organizations use MAP [Meetup Alliance Platform]? Absolutely! MAP removes many of the headaches of running an organization with chapters. To learn more e-mail us.”

But the key question will be what the value proposition: how much bang do members get for the buck? Members of Meetup chapter organizations presumably will pay a lot less in dues than the old bricks-and-mortar chapter organizations?.The real question is the quality of the meetings, the social entrepreneurship and political clout that these groups can have, the quality of their social capital and what they continue to learn through educational activities.”

Of course, there are always countless claims of how technology is going to do away with the old. Remember the “paperless office” we were going to work in? So I certainly wouldn’t count chapter-based organizations out — there are probably more people meeting in Texas in a given month through bricks-and-mortar voluntary organizations than worldwide with Meetup in a month. But if Meetup is really smart about figuring out how to teach others to run efficient meetings, how to aggregate political clout on-line, how to run organizations well, how to outsource efficient annual meetings, there could be something transformative going on here. I know Scott Heiferman ( founder aspires to this. What’s important about Scott is that he is wise enough to realize that there are lots of things that people cannot do on-line that require face-to-face contact which is why Meetup was all built around regular F2F meetings (Meetups).

One final note: while Meetup seems way ahead of the curve in thinking about how on-line groups might start to replace bricks-and-mortar voluntary associations or chapter groups, the “finding your tribe” space has become more crowded recently along with sites that enable one-time get-togethers. Facebook‘s causes enables people to form looser tribes and use this to spur philanthropy; and Facebook has launched its own events services to enable simple confabs (and has the advantage that users already have some of their friends listed on the site). MyPunchBowl (like evite) enables people to plan simple events and invite others on-line but seems less focused around regular meetings. Yelp (primarily focused on user ratings of restaurants, services, things to see in a city, etc.) now also features a service “Invite Friends” that enables users to plan events. Meetup obviously has a huge head start on these other groups but it will be interesting to see whether they are as smart about trying to offer a deep civic alternative (as the bricks-and-mortar chapter-based voluntary associations do).

How technology affects friendships

The Economist has an interesting set of stories this week on the relationship of technology to social capital.

They note that these smaller mini-connections with friends and family throughout the day using cellphones, texting, IM, etc. keep us more connected to kith and kin, at the cost of our connections with strangers — the latter potentially a cohesive glue that holds society together. There is also some question whether the continuing ties of adolescents to their parents through cellphones is retarding adolescence. The article discusses how new technology is changing dating rituals in Japan.

There is also an interesting conversation about how it is changing etiquette. They note a huge gradient in the US by age about whether using cellphones in public is a major irritation with 74% of those over age 60 saying yes, and only 32% of those ages 18-27 agreeing.

Excerpt: “Trickier etiquette problems arise when the issue is not so much noise as context. One example that will enter the history books occurred last September when Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, was still waging a vigorous campaign for the presidency. As he was up on his podium and in mid-sentence addressing the National Rifle Association (NRA), a crucial constituency for a Republican candidate, his mobile rang and, to gasps in the huge audience, he decided to answer it. What followed, captured on microphone, is worth repeating in its banality: “Hello, dear. I’m talking, I’m talking to the members of the NRA right now. Would you like to say hello? I love you, and I’ll give you a call as soon as I’m finished. OK? OK, have a safe trip. Bye-bye. Talk to you later, dear. I love you.” When he hung up, the audience had turned to stone.

“Usually the situation is subtler and the incongruence has more to do with attention. This can be true even during silent mobile communications. It is now routine for university students to text, e-mail and instant-message during lectures. Mr Ling, whose job includes loitering in public places for observation, watched a woman at an Oslo underground station who texted as she walked. She was wholly focused on her text message but had to look up occasionally to weave through the crowds on the platform. Other people were doing the same. It was an “atomised and individualised” scene, says Mr Ling: a new form of the proverbial lonely crowd.

“But at least this particular Norwegian woman was signalling through her body language to all around her that she wanted to be left alone. The spread of “hands-free” Bluetooth devices, with hidden earplugs seemingly attached to nothing, is removing even those clues. Steve Love, a psychologist, was travelling on a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow once when a girl standing next to him started talking to him. She asked him how he was and how his day had been, and Mr Love, though a bit shy, politely told her how much he was looking forward to watching Scotland play football that evening. As he spoke, the girl looked at him in horror, then turned away. Only then did Mr Love hear her say “OK, I’ll call you later.” Not a word or gesture was exchanged for the remainder of the (suddenly uncomfortable) journey.

“Probably the single most common etiquette conflict occurs, as Mr Ling puts it, when mediated communication interrupts co-present communication, as when two or more people are sitting at a table in conversation or negotiation and one of them gets, and answers, a call. The other co-present people must now keep themselves busy while seeming nonchalant. What is more, they must pretend not to be eavesdropping even though they are only a few feet away from the mediated conversation, ideally by assuming a pose of concentration on some other object, such as their fingernails or their own phone. As soon as the intervening call ends, everybody must try to re-enter the co-present context as gracefully as possible.

“So there is evidence that nomadism is good for in-groups, but at the expense of strangers. If that is true, Mr Granovetter would consider it bad for society. Fortunately, however, the last chapter has not yet been written. Since the outburst of pessimism about the internet among sociologists in the 1990s, the web has recently become an intensely social medium, thanks in large part to proliferating online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Young people have been using these websites on their PCs to keep in touch with much larger groups of people than has ever been feasible before. It is not uncommon for adolescents to add several “friends” a day to their “social graph” on Facebook or to the “buddy list” of their instant-messaging service.”

See Family Ties: Kith and Kin Get Closer with Consequences for Strangers (4/10/08 special report in Economist) and A Wireless Word: Our Nomadic Future (4/10/08 issue of Economist).

Social networking: a social “eden” or dystopian tool?

Freakonomics convenes an e-forum of various researchers of the social effects of social networking sites. As we’ve noted on this site, research on the social impact of these sites is still in its infancy, and we’ve blogged before on what’s interesting and the limitations of Nicole Ellison’s MSU study. On balance, most of the researchers see that there will be both desirable and undesirable byproducts of these social networks.

I agreed with some of the interesting comments of Will Reader (we blogged about his study earlier): “Some doom-mongers have suggested that social networking technologies will eventually lead to a society in which we no longer engage in face-to-face contact with people. I don’t see it. Face-to-face contact is, I believe, very important for the formation of intimate relationships (and most of us crave those).” But since close friendships require large investments of our time and emotion, we want to make sure that others are worth this investment, and non-verbal cues obtained from face-to-face interactions are one of the best ways to gauge this.

Reader notes that “talk is cheap” on social networks. “Anyone can post “u r cool” on someone’s “wall,” or “poke” them on Facebook, but genuine smiles and laughs are a much more reliable indicators of someone’s suitability as a faithful friend….To return to the notion of social capital, we know that people are increasingly “meeting” people on social network sites before they meet them face to face. As a result of this, when many students begin university, they find themselves with a group of ready-made acquaintances. Given people’s preferences for people who are like them, it could be that friendship networks become increasingly homogeneous. Is this a bad thing? It might be if, by choosing potential friends via their Facebook profiles, it means that folk cut themselves off from serendipitous encounters with those who are superficially different from them, ethnically, socio-economically, and even in terms of musical taste.”

Reader believes that social networking will change our society but one’s own preferences will dictate whether it is a utopian or dystopian future.

We’ve written earlier about how the Internet is an especially efficient way to maintain social ties that were made face-to-face, but Reader is undoubtedly true, that for geographically based networks (like Facebook, generally centered on college campuses), Facebook activity prior to coming to college campuses may accelerate the process of making new friends and may also exacerbate our tendency to form bonding friendships at the expense of bridging.

And Judith Donath makes the point that we have made earlier that social networking sites often “cheapen” the currency of friendships.

See whole forum here. [Freakonomics asked Martin Baily, Danah Boyd, Steve Chazin, Judith Donath, Nicole Ellison, and William Reader:” Has social networking technology (blog-friendly phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made us better or worse off as a society, either from an economic, psychological, or sociological perspective?”]

Obama using viral marketing in S. Carolina

“Cyber Stumping” (Direct, 2/1/08) reported on an interesting activation of viral marketing at Barack Obama’s Columbia, SC December event with Oprah Winfrey. The 30,000 attendees in the football stadium at Obama’s request texted their cell numbers to the campaign to get mobile campaign alerts and then each called four numbers on the back of their tickets to urge them to vote Obama in the primary.

Brian Quinton (the author) lauds this as a way “to data-mine a live event” and get 120,000 campaign calls made on the bills of the attendees. He notes that it enabled the Obama campaign to skirt governmental limits on calls to mobile phones by campaigns.

As effective as this was, one wonders whether they shouldn’t have merged information on where these rally attendees lived with campaign lists of uncommitted voters in their neighborhoods to give them names of neighboring South Carolinians to persuade.  Under the theory that friends persuading friends is more effective than strangers persuading friends;  that after all is what social capital is all about.

The *Direct* article also talks about campaign effort to make their online presence more interactive and integrated with their offline presence. “[M]ost candidates are using the Internet to spin their speeches and appearances in near-real time. Hillary Clinton introduced the “Fact Hub” rapid-response page of her Web site just in time to defuse a story that her campaign had stiffed a Boone, IA, diner waitress….Both parties also have embraced social networks, Democrats more so than Republicans. By mid-December, Barack Obama had joined every social net from MySpace and Facebook to LinkedIn (for business professionals) and niche sites such as, (for Hispanics),, (for gays and lesbians) and (for non-denominational Christians). Last February his campaign also launched its own social net,, to help early supporters find each other and to raise cash.” But Obama is being sophisticated in some ways: “Even before December’s Oprah tour, Obama event attendees were asked to fill out contact information. In the case of the Oprah rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, those phone numbers were added to the candidate’s house list immediately. Attendees got a call from a staffer within 48 hours of the event thanking them for their support and asking for a pledge to vote for Obama in the upcoming primary.”