Nov 252009

danah boyd gave a talk at Web2.0Expo that I thought made some great points.

The irony is this: while she gave her talk, the Twitter backchannel was being projected up behind her, where she could not see it. She was in fact in an attention battle with every Tweeter there. On top of that, she couldn’t see the audience, so her feedback channels on how she was doing — incredibly important to a speaker — were just completely broken. In other words, the backchannel had a better attention platform than the speaker did.

Unsurprisingly, the talk went poorly. danah’s dissection of it makes for compelling reading.

Her talk can be found in its entirety at “Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media” — don’t rely on my simplified version:

  1. To quote Dr Cat, “attention is the currency of the future.”
  2. These networks democratize access but not attention.
  3. Attention doesn’t go to what’s best.
  4. Attention can go to what clicks easiest — e.g., stuff in your langague.
  5. Attention can go to what triggers emotional responses, which may not be rich in information or thoughtfulness or quality, which may not be beneficial to society.
  6. Attention goes to things that are like what we already know and like, and networks drive homophily and homogeneity for any given user, not diversity.
  7. Power goes to those who can command attention, or spread content

At State of Play, I got a bit upset with the fact that there were discussion threads going in Twitter that challenged some key points, but that speakers couldn’t see or respond to, and it felt like it spiraled into somewhat dismissive remarks quickly. So I know how danah feels, though my experience was nowhere near as dramatic as hers.

  3 Responses to “danah boyd’s talk about streams becomes object lesson”

  1. Personally I’m astounded that anybody thinks it’s a good idea to have a updating message stream behind a conference speaker during the talk, and disappointed that people think it’s ok to use that stream to criticise that speaker in real time. Both aspects show a distinct lack of respect, which you might reasonably expect if you’re teaching to a room of 12 year olds, but not when speaking to a room of peers. This isn’t progress.

  2. I still think the twitter/backchannel approach can add value, but only for some formats, and only if moderated. (e.g. maybe for questions for a panel; or a backchannel of ‘support personel’ googling market data to support or refute points that come up in a panel discussion, etc.

    It’s certainly playing with fire and you run the chance that it can degrade quickly.

    I haven’t read danah’s talk yet, but points 3,4,5,6 above certainly ring true when thinking about Fox news. Ugh.

  3. Attention goes to those paying attention to those paying attention.

    Hardly anyone takes the web seriously these days.

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