overview/ big trends in cyber collaboration & social networking

hi all, this is a long-in-the-works post of piled up collected/ compiled links on an emerging area that is difficult to name/ circumscribe exactly, but its basically about new forms of collaboration augmented by cyberspace. this is a quickly emerging area that this blog has tracked in some other posts, and heres the latest batch, but also with an eye to identifying and articulating some key larger trends.

the big social network-related “platforms” are Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google+, Instagram, StackExchange, Wikipedia. (wikipedia [e] has been covered in depth in prior posts and is typically not regarded as “social networking” but it clearly has strong overlap with the space in general when considered.) they vary quite a bit in nature but there seems to be some convergence going on.

a big area of focus/ adjustment/ contention is what might be called “feed algorithms”. Twitter/ Instagram recently announced changes in their feed algorithms in an attempt to increase “stickiness” aka engagement.[a] Twitter seems to be going thru some wrenching changes lately with large alteration in its executive management and feeling funding pressure/ squeeze. in short it seems to be having trouble monetizing its platform. same executive shakeup went on with Reddit where the toplevel gyrations made major headlines but maybe have now stabilized.[c] in reddits case some of this was due to the intensity of user commitment/ loyalty to the site. reddit has also made changes in feed aka ranking algorithms.

users do not like their feed algorithms altered. unfortunately the big platforms do not allow the user to select the feed algorithm. it seems like a simple/ obvious compromise: allow a few basic feed algorithms, and let users choose their own. but feed algorithms are similar in importance to the “big kahuna” Pagerank and companies want to maximize control over them as “drivers of eyeballs” and influence, and of course wrt advertising. so in a way there is a weird tension verging on “conflict of interest” at the heart of these platforms long noted… in short, users want to use the platforms and control them but the platforms want to control how they are used… software design can steer and sometimes subtly “push back” against user priorities… the software system/ platform can take on its own priorities… aka in the vernacular “taking on a life of its own…”

google+ has gone thru major changes [d] also and my big complaint with this site is that it doesnt have much of a feed algorithm. my favorite ranking system is reddit and its no accident it calls itself “front page of the internet”. google+ now has plenty of ratings activity, why dont they create a simple ranking system based on ratings? it seems like such a no-brainer but years into google+ its still nowhere in sight and nobody even seems to talk about it or ask for it.

another big area of contention/ adjustment/ evolution/ innovation is in comment systems. theres a lot of complaints about the unrulyness or coarseness/ rudeness of comments. this has been going on as long as cyberspace but there is some improved awareness in the area and its now seen as somewhat strongly connected to cyberbullying issues which are big these days esp with the attempts to guard diversity on the internet (eg reject female harassment etc).

an area of big personal interest is the connection of electronic democracy to social networking systems.[b] we see suggestions that social networking platforms are having major political influence esp in this very eventful election year (with recordbreaking political budgets in the US) but so far its not separated from its normal content. one wonders if there could be some further evolution in this area such that political content has some different status or organization.

my other big area of tracking is open/ cyber science.[f][g] this includes areas such as “open access publishing” [i] and some new experiments in “overlay journals”.[h]

we are seeing some new platforms for “crowdfunded science”.[n]

another area of collaboration getting more attn these days is scientific reproducability. its a complex topic that spans all disciplines. however its unique in CS where reproducability takes the form of open source software or so called “recomputation” where there are some new initiatives.[o] the “big kahuna” for collaboration in the area is open source and eg the polymath prj (covered prior blogs) however there are a few scattered bits and pieces of other collaborative interests expressed elsewhere eg on stackexchange, the lively site almost in a category all by itself (hence my own strong engagement there over the years), and am planning to write on it in particular extensively some time.[j][k][l] [m] is a small/ somewhat rare case study on a mathematical problem analysis that spanned blogs and stackexchange.

another remarkable area of online collaboration is futures markets.[p] the sizeable InTrade market was targeted by US prosecution just a few years ago, and collapsed/ died.[q] but there are other new innovative futures markets that are emerging and evolving. one would expect continued innovation in this area.

after nearly half a decade kickstarter [r] is a still a 1-of-a-kind site almost in a category by itself, extremely pioneering in a way that few can match. think its awesome its so successful but also wish it scaled more to other sites. and also wish there was a documentary on this very important site that goes beyond into “phenomenon”. the “gofundme” site is in the news more also.

so its hard to summarize all this but a lot of diverse areas seem to be innovating/ evolving/ developing/ coalescing/ converging. after many years of massive growth and commotion (and lets not forget the facebook IPO was only a few years ago) maybe the social network platforms are finally starting to settle down some. however theres still a lot of signs of “shearing forces”. overall in many ways its ultimately a disruptive technology. but somewhat paradoxically, all driven by big crowds and their very human agendas who are using cyberspace to sometimes-gradually, sometimes-quickly realign/ transform the real world.

the overall trends here will probably take decades to play out fully but their initial shapes/ outlines can be perceived in the moment. again quoting gibson: “the futures already here, its just not evenly distributed.”


a. collab
b. politics
c. reddit
d. google+
e. wikipedia
f. science
g. publishing
h. overlay
i. controversy/ open access
j. prj
k. cstheory
l. codegolf
m. SAV/ math
n. crowdfunding
o. reproduction/ recomputation
p. futures markets
q. intrade
r. kickstarter

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