From Weblogs to Twitter: Semi-Live Coverage of the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009

I’ve made it, under cover at the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009, where a host of web boffins will elucidate the social, political, and economic effects of social media. I say under cover, because registration was full when I tried, and I’ve gone anyway to see what I can squeeze into. Wish me luck! 


The opening big session is called From weblogs to Twitter: how did we get where we are today and what are the main impacts to date? with panelists Dave Sifry, Bill Thompson, Bill Dutton, and Nigel Shadbolt, moderated by Kathryn Corrick. They’re keeping a twitter hashtag for the convention on the big screen projected behind the speakers. Interesting. I will add details about the presenters at a later date.

Opening comments for this session by Victoria Nash:
The conference is meant to address whether it has had the democratizing effect it was meant to have, as well as what’s to come as social media evolves, also in the context of web 3.0, I would have thought Oxford would have been at 4.0 by now. Shame.

She’s now thanking Match.com for their sponsorship support. I’m sure their “dating” anchor texted link from the Oxford University domain is a nice perk.

Dave Sifry:
Creator of Technorati, started blogging in 2002, loved the CMS easy aspect of blogging. Says search engines sucked years ago, because they treated the web as a library. He was interested in the conversation aspect of the web, and so he started Technorati. Hmm.
Asked about real time search, he addresses the drastic search intent difference in comparison with a more traditional search engine. Not search interfaces, but filtering interfaces. Not a fishing net, but a fishing line. I’m guessing he didn’t just make that up.

Bill Thompson:
Talking about how good technologies become “just what we do”, but social media hasn’t gotten there. No conferences to discuss fax machines.

He built an Edinburgh Fringe festival website years ago that was fairly interactive, as far as reviews and other cool stuff. He controlled it carefully, as it was an era where you had to give permission. He says, let people express themselves, and their desires become apparent. If you remove the permission aspect, people can do remarkable things, but it’s still early stages online. He just got back from Kenya, where fiber optic cables are being laid down, and says the landscape will change significantly when billions more get online around the world, and that newer regions will use the web better than us.

Bill Dutton:
There’s both continuity and change. Twitter was made more widely-known by Obama, and there’s a fast moving updating of the Internet as new technologies come on the scene, but there has been some constancy. He thinks the Internet has always been social, counting email, which 98% of people use.
In 2007, 17% of people 14-and-over used social networks. In 2009, 49%. Probably much higher now. (22% of have created a blog). These systems are making a difference, he says, not just connecting people, but reconfiguring how we communicate with each other.
They reinforce existing networks: useful for finding old friends, but 35% have met someone online they didn’t know before. Gives a shoutout to match.com to say that 6-8% met their spouse online, recently married up to 20%.

Nigel Shadbolt:
AI didn’t understand the web very well, because they always tried to put it in a closed, calculated framework, but the scale of information has changed things.

He asks, why can’t we anticipate technology tools? The blogosphere is an interesting case study. Talking about how pings and trackbacks took things to a different level, crossed a social threshold. We didn’t predict that.

Is the Internet the same everywhere? In China there are 60 million bloggers, but they’re much more often on bulletin board systems.
Ask, how do very large scale structures like Wikipedia become stable? Doesn’t really answer.

In a way, do societal structures re-emerge on the web?
The web support extremism through easy access and communication, but people still get pushed towards “influential parts of our discussion space”.

Q&A!
The moderator asks the guy his twitter name, he says he doesn’t Twitter, the audience applauds. Interesting. The hashtag is active, and it’s partly like a classroom where everyone is passing notes with everyone at the same time.

He’s asking to what extent he needs to learn Chinese, especially with shifts in Chinese domains and other tech issues. Bill Thompson says you won’t have to, and that technology will solve that problem, with the issues being more cultural, rather than language-based.
Nigel is talking about how much of the web is unavailable now, for example the Spanish web running a bit differently. Baidu is indexing millions of pages beyond Google’s reach. There is difference. What has revolutionized computational linguistics has been the massive amount of scrapable text, where people used to have to input directly. With massiveness comes emergence.

Moderator asks Dave about search engines and getting English results. Dave says you can ask for results in your native language, with more options. An enormous corpus of data has done wonders to AI, agreeing with Nigel. He thinks cross-cultural communication can be extremely liberating, but extremely dangerous, too.

The Internet is democratizing, but it’s centralizing, and can encourage xenophobia.

“Will the Chinese build their own protocols? What will that do to the openness we take for granted?”

New question from Yorick Wilks, my old professor at University of Sheffield! Talks about names, and how naming people has been affected by Facebook, increasing the number of first names chosen for children, and about things like nicknames, trending towards uniqueness.

Bull Dutton says people in real life have nicknames, and that if anything the internet is approaching real life more. Someone’s tweeting on the hashtag that the Internet is part of real life. Good on ya, suchprettyeyes.

Moderator: How do we address problems of verification for non-official media? Bill Thompson says regular people are scrutinizing official media more than ever.

Question: Has free at the “point of use” generally changed with social media, affecting social consciousness? Uses American health care debate as an example of point of use payments or not.

Bill Thompson says forget making money, extend the brand, and The Guardian listened, and that Rupert Murdoch’s pay model is stupid.

Bill Dutton says no one knows the perfect business model yet, but advertising is going decently.

Dave quoting Clay Shirky: “It’s not social software if you can’t spam it.”

Wow, Bill Sifry ripped on SEO, saying that in its kindest form, it’s a way to get your already great content seen and treated well by search engines, referring to it in its more typical state as all snake-oil, and that if anyone here gets approached by an SEO, run. I have much to say on this, that I’ll expand on in a full blog post that I’ll link to from here. Until then, I’ll just say “sod off Dave”.

That’s all for now!

More to come.

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