« Halting State moments ... | Main | Paging the War Nerd ... »

Antisocial Networking

I don't do Myspace. I don't do LinkedIn. I don't do Facebook. (Although I'm told I've got a fan club there.) I don't do chat, as a rule. And I refuse to even think about Twitter.


Well, it's like this: I am easily distracted. I spend too much time reading my email, answering questions on this blog (okay, arguing with the readers), and bouncing off the assorted news websites that keep me reading for about three hours a day. (I call it research: you may beg to differ — but if you've come across some real cool bit of technology/science/tech policy news on Slashdot or Ycombinator or Ars Technica or The Guardian, the odds are good that I've already read it. So don't bother forwarding it to me unless you're really confident that it's obscure as hell.)

And what I've noticed is that all successful social network sites are structured to provide an attractive nuisance.

This isn't to say that they aren't sometimes useful, but in order to attract users, a social networking side like Facebook or LinkedIn has to keep folks coming back. It's not enough to get them to create a user ID in the first place; I've seen some estimates that around 90% of legitimate, human-derived accounts on social networking sites are inactive. (I qualify this as human-derived because a whole lot of them are bot-generated accounts used by spammers. I'm talking about the ones with a human brain behind the name.) So the successful sites need to get real humans to keep coming back — especially if they're going to raise the advertising revenue from click-throughs to pay their bandwidth bills — and the developers are therefore subjected to a ruthless Darwinian selection pressure: add attractive nuisances, or die.

We can see this on FaceBook with its endless games. (I sometimes wonder if I'm a Facebook widower.) We can see this on LJ with its endless rounds of emotional affirmation in comment threads. We used to see it on USENET back in the eighties and nineties, with the flamewar season. Social networks don't grow because they provide utility to their users: they grow because they keep pushing the social stimulus button. And any utility they provide is incidental to that function.

This doesn't mean that social networking and microblogging sites are useless: on the contrary, they're very useful. The trouble is, they're also very attractive. And I have enough trouble focussing at the best of time that they're pure poison to my productivity.

So: don't bother sending me Facebook or LinkedIn or similar network invites. It's not so much that I'm not interested, but that if I give in to temptation the next book or six will be a few years late. (And you wouldn't want that, would you?)




Hear hear! Computers and the internet were designed to eliminate the need for social interactions. WoW and Facebook and all that rot are ruining it for the loners.

Go read "Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto"
We're not damaged, we're different. Stop trying to make us into social butterflies, we're happy being stag beetles.


Charlie: ...So don't bother forwarding it to me unless you're really confident that it's obscure as hell.)

I would have thought your readers would cover vastly more ground, collectively, than you do. Arthur C. Clarke reputedly read Nature from cover to cover, but that one publication alone is not an easy read, and there are so many, many journals.

A successful author may well find it a nuisance to receive lots of emails with the "I thought this might be of interest...". However, have you considered using technology to manage this? Something like a Wiki where readers can post links or upload files for different subject areas. It would even help in the blog comments if references to articles could be made that avoid the multiple links spam filtering. I've not seen this done, and maybe it is too much work and still prone to spammers to be worthwhile.

As an aside, it would be far more useful if you had a site to report typos and other book errata. calling for them after a book is read requires re-reading (who has the time?) or maintaining a list. A place to post errata that is always live might get a better response. Certainly I would be more likely to post typos while I am reading your latest book and they are fresh.


The above is my usual excuse, I don't do socialising therefore I don't do social networking.
Although the partial truth is I hate to be a latecomer so now I'm just being stubborn and refusing to sign up.

Fortunately my friends and family tend to send me the interesting stuff from face book anyway.


I would have thought your readers would cover vastly more ground, collectively, than you do. Arthur C. Clarke reputedly read Nature from cover to cover, but that one publication alone is not an easy read, and there are so many, many journals.

You might think so, but 95% of the links folk mail to me are either (a) whimsical, or (b) stuff I've already seen. Remarkable, isn't it?

A wiki would be a neat idea, if I could figure out a way to keep the spammers out of it. And I have thought about setting up a bug tracking database for errata in the books, but there's a slight shortage of round tuits hereabouts ...


So, what you're really saying is that GRRM is late with the damned book because he's spending too much time screwing around on MySpace and Facebook?

*ducks and runs*

Sorry, I couldn't resist, heh.



Man, I miss the USENET flamewars 3dfx.products.voodobanshee vs 3dfx.products.voodoo3 was scary lol


I'm not a social butterfly and am terrible in keeping in touch with people. Still, there were a few people I wanted to find and get in touch with (stupid moment of nostalgia). You see where this is going... Facebook. Next thing you know, people that I went to grade school with are contacting me. Now I'm that Mr. Fancy ahole who didn't bother to respond to friend requests.

Just say NO to facebook and all the rest.


Note that Hypertext and Hypermiedia inventor Ted Nelson summarizes thus:

by Ted Nelson

© 2008 Theodor Holm Nelson.
All rights reserved.


20 Web 2.0-- Walled Gardens, Cattle Pens, Collaboration Places Sort Of

"Web 2.0" and "social media" are journalists' phrases to lump together a bunch of stuff on the Net, made to seem oh so new. They generally refer to Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and Wikipedia (and ever so many other wannabes). These services, like so many others on the net, are contrived to capture customers.

But what's so new about social media? Email was always a social medium! Facebook, Myspace and their imitators are essentially the same internal techniques as email and the Web, just different packaging.

Journalists lump Wikipedia with Facebook and MySpace but it's quite different. Yes anyone can edit it, temporarily, but not really. Your "edit" might just as well be put in a submission window, because it will be scrutinized and judged by the REAL editors. (The internal politics are fierce.)

BLOGS. The term "blog", short for "weblog", is a loaded term. It refers to the articles and columns that people self-publish on the net. In the current fashion, a blog "posting" (publication) may be followed by random comments by any number of readers, some slovenly and illiterate, some elegantly written. There is currently no principled method for controlling this kind of forum.


Well, when you put it in those terms, I guess I'm going to have to write some sort of app to actively search out and destroy Charles Stross accounts on social networking sites just to be sure the books keep coming.

I joined Facebook because when I returned to college I found that most of the clubs/societies do all of their announcemnts/calendar reminders through Facebook. Yeah. I joined Facebook so I could get the AIChE student chapter updates. As a 30yo, I am deeply disturbed by this trend. The kids dig it, though.


I hear you, Charlie. I've recently been making an effort myself to pull my online creative output back into the blogosphere (my own and some that I care about, like this one), partially in an effort to focus myself, and also to limit distractions! I agree...it's WAAYY to easy to get lost in the minutiae of the pre-school trials and tribulations of the daughter of someone I went to high school with. How does THAT happen?? It's worse than grinding in WoW! *grin*

I do use them to make contact with people, and I enjoy that aspect...I'm not planning on deleting any accounts. But as you note, it's mostly about the timesuck for the SNS; they don't really care what they've got you doing, as long as it's at the site (kidnapped lately by vampires with superpoke powers lately, anyone?). Whereas reading on commenting at blogs like yours is something that I get value out of directly. This is my phyle!


"I qualify this as human-derived because a whole lot of them are bot-generated accounts used by spammers. I'm talking about the ones with a human brain behind the name."

Hey, AI has to begin somewhere. H. sapiens didn't suddenly leap into existence writing verse.


don't bother sending me Facebook or LinkedIn or similar network invites. It's not so much that I'm not interested, but that if I give in to temptation the next book or six will be a few years late. (And you wouldn't want that, would you?)

Alright, who invited GRR Martin to Facebook? Fess up.


Poor LJ doesn't need your hate and is going to play by itself in Russia.


I know of only one author using a wiki for one of his books: http://www.doktorsleepless.com/index.php/Main_Page

I've never read it, though. I don't know how useful it is. He'd probably be happy to tell you how he keeps the spam out.


I just killed myself on facebook due to the same reason. It's hard to prepare qualifying exam with these on-line community stuffs.

BTW, they don't really remove your data from the database. Once you login again, you will reborn.That sucks.


I've got a much better reason to avoid MySpace. The user interface is an utter nightmare if you have poor eyesight, migraine and RSI.

As for FaceBook,their "all your data are belong to us" approach to privacy was quite enough to put me off ever even looking at the site. :-/


Facebook is useful, but the problem you describe is very real, and I don't know yet how to solve it. One thing that's worked for me in the past with time sinks like that is to just be disciplined and only go there at a designated time during the day. The problem is that the more useful the tool becomes, the harder it is to only use it once a day.

By all means, stay away from social networking - I for one would much rather have a new book to read. But I hope that at some point we figure out a way to make it work for us, without working against us.


I have no desire to even look at those websites. I barely keep up with my email. Perhaps my addictions to Hearts of Iron 2, Europa Univeralis 2 and Victoria: Revolutions have immunized me.


So don't bother forwarding it to me unless you're really confident that it's obscure as hell.

So you've read the WRITER’S QUEST! text adventure then :-)


Charlie said: "(And you wouldn't want that, would you?)"

Actually I could cope with it, owing to the fact that work+family+existing web distractions leave me with so little time that I'm lots of books behind your output already. So yeah, bring it on, and give me time to catch up.


Charlie, it warms the cockles of my heart to learn that you spend two hours a day "keeping up." Because I do too. I feel guilty about it, but ... if I don't read 3 Quarks Daily or Crooked Timber or Technology Review, I MIGHT MISS SOMETHING IMPORTANT. (Is this a variation on "someone is wrong on the Internet"?)

My favorite net-scanning device is Cosma Shalizi's delicious page. Half the links are useless, because advanced statistics is a closed book to me, but the other links are usually fascinating, and often from sites I would never visit on my own.


Digg can be a terrible time sink. It does bring up some interesting content, but you just sort of get sucked into it. I really hate the fact that people want to add you as a "friend" purely so you can just Digg each other's submissions. I hardly ever submit anything so I got tired of it and stopped accepting shouts. Best thing I ever did, my email inbox became manageable overnight! Also, a lot of people on Twitter are so-called "Social Media Experts" who want you to visit their ad-covered website about making money on the Internet, presumably by using an ad-covered website of your own. Not really the sort of people you want to follow.
And as for Facebook, well the IT Crowd episode "Friendface" was a very timely satire that pretty much hit the whole thing on the head.


Love comment #12: "Poor LJ doesn't need your hate and is going to play by itself in Russia." hehe


Late-stage cybercapitalism, pseudo-social ultracommerce, call it what you will, it is really a kind of addictive commodification. I think we'll need a kind of rehab/detox for netizens, eventually!


Netizen deprogramming will consist of meds like clonazepam & Lexapro to deal with the anxiety & OCD component, plently of fresh air, and a strict regime of leaving the house at lease once a day to do things like eat in restaurants where the waiters know you and greet you by name. Treatment for PTSD may also be necessary to deal with the after-effects of the flamewars & the cyberstalking.


Maybe the solution is a social network built for professional authors. It only lets you in if you have an active publishing contract with a major publisher, and the only information it gives you about people is how many pages they've written that day. The ultimate motivator! Also, I expect you could sell a lot of advertising for antacids and anxiety medication.


What I want is a good contacts manager. Not Myspace aka blogging for the illiterate, prop. R. Murdoch; not Facebook aka all your friends belong to us; not Linkedin aka Pofacedbook aka Ugly Interface. I want at least one copy of the data on my local hard disk. I want a taxonomy that isn't either Win 3.1 clone hierarchical directories (looking at you, MS Outlook, Moz Tbird, KDE Kontact..) or else availability heuristic stroking (Facebook...), but a sensible many to one model. Because people belong to multiple groups. I want everything that gets sent or received to be a vCard because it works (Nokia, what is your fucking problem? The contacts in a Nokia Back Up file are a text vCard file! But you refuse to import them!). I want them to be stored in a database, like real software stores things (KDE, crashing on every write because you put all 1,049 entries in a flat text file is a FAIL), so all else above works. I want a user interface that doesn't think my friends are alphabetical(ALL FAIL). I want a graphical user interface that is graphical, dammit, so I can see connections and relationships between people (ALL FAIL). I want a command line interface...balls...an API that lets me do things with them programmatically (ALL FAIL). I want synchronisation to use a stupid obvious Internet RFC so it works, like IMAP (FAIL). FAIL FAIL FAIL!

Contact management is the worst implemented application in the software universe except for voicemail (and I know people who are improving that).


I held off Facebook for a long time, but finally signed up. It took me awhile to figure it out, but now I happily use it with two rules.

1. Only real life friends.
2. Ignore all application requests.

Works for me.


Agent intermediation and aggregation. Keep the principal off the various sites, trawl and filter as if he was there, present a few things as very plain displays. It is probably an AI problem.


There are reasons why Facebook + MySpace + Linked-In collectively have higher penetration of netizen populace than does email, and have made a multiple of a billion dollars so far. But I leave that for somebody else to analyze.

My critique is that the "link" between two persons in Social Networking is a crude first-order model of the various type of links between two people in the real world. To save space, I omit scholarly citations to Social Networks as studied by psychologists and sociologists and Complex Systems Theorists.

There is a temporal asymmetry in our biology. Parents need to teach children. If children could just as easily teach parents, then our current (100,000 year-old) technology of family and tribe might not be robust enough to survive.

That is, I think Civilization depends on
these asymmetric binary relationships:
(1) Parent-Child
(2) Teacher-Student

I am less sure of the centrality of:
(3) Master-Slave (which has mutated to Manager-Employee or Professor-Grad Student)

We have these 2 symmetric relationships:
(4) Friend-Friend (the basis of social networking software, which now, as I say) has higher penetration with netizens than email);
(5) Lover-Lover.

The fight over Marriage definition is partly a fight over the axiomatization. Does the Bible or Koran really say that Husband-Wife is more like Master-Slave? Is Gay marriage more like Lover-Lover or Husband-Wife?

I’m not trying to take sides in these debates, here, but pointing out what I think is the underlying graph theoretic basis. Mind you, social life and politics are more hypergraphs than graphs, with n-ary hyperlinks rather than merely binary relationships symbolized by edges, but that’s another story. A friend of a friend is NOT necessarily a friend; an enemy of my enemy is not necessarily a friend; A loves B does not suggest that B loves A, or else there would be no Romance novels.


Agree, can't stand them, and am really tired of hearing about Twatter. Okay, I occasionally sign in to my mother's Facebook page to see if anyone I know has signed up, usually don't find anyone, so haven't bothered.

I'm also reminded of a column Cory D. wrote last year about the hazards of Facebook, such as your boss wanting to friend you, how to refuse, etc. (Couldn't find a link -didn't feel like looking too hard either, sorry.)


Recently read this interview with Gerald Edelman, where he says:

"Eugene Izhikevitch [a mathematician at the Neurosciences Institute] and I have made a model with a million simulated neurons and almost half a billion synapses, all connected through neuronal anatomy equivalent to that of a cat brain. What we find, to our delight, is that it has intrinsic activity. Up until now our BBDs had activity only when they confronted the world, when they saw input signals. In between signals, they went dark. But this damn thing now fires on its own continually. The second thing is, it has beta waves and gamma waves just like the regular cortex—what you would see if you did an electroencephalogram. Third of all, it has a rest state. That is, when you don’t stimulate it, the whole population of neurons stray back and forth, as has been described by scientists in human beings who aren’t thinking of anything.

In other words, our device has some lovely properties that are necessary to the idea of a conscious artifact. It has that property of indwelling activity. So the brain is already speaking to itself. That’s a very important concept for consciousness."

(my emphasis)


If you used Twitter, you could write the next book...one line at a time. That would be fun fascinating annoying as hell.


Deb Geisler @ 34: In Tales of Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov, Halstead, high school mathematics teacher, has an ongoing hobby of writing limericks for each chapter of the Iliad and the Odyssey. That's the pre-social-networking Classics equivalent of a Twitter novel.


@Alex, yes! I have plans to write such a thing... but I'm reading Charlie's blog instead, and Facebook, and...


The only reason I have a Fleecebook account is that my son insisted on putting the photos of his house renovation there and nowhere else. Other than looking at that, I don't use it. My partner, Eva, still refuses to get an account at all. And I gave up on LJ after wading through the nth+1 350 comment thread, where all the comments after the first were some variant of "me, too".

Charlie, I'll challenge your web coverage. Have you been following Eric Drexler's blog on nanomachine synthesis, metamodern.com? Some neat analysis of how some of the latest developments could be used to build nanontech artifacts.


Watch out! The Chandler experience suggests it's harder than it looks. It's possible that the best approach would be to start with the DB and the API for access to it..


Your mate Scalzi takes exactly the opposite approach. He is everywhere, and it doesn't seem to have affected his output so far. Horses for courses, I guess.


Kevin: Scalzi comes from a very different direction -- IIRC he used to host discussion forums for AOL back in the day, and most of his writing is still non-fiction. I really don't know how he manages to keep up with it all!


Facebook is ldap with adverts, can't honestly see the point of it but i have an account there just in case, myspace is rupert murdoch/riaa thought control. Twitter is just plain weird.

Charlie your not alone.


I have never really understood the attraction of a lot of this Web 2.0 stuff. I just can't see the attraction of publishing the minutae of my dull little life a la Twitter.... I guess I'm a bit of a luddite though. The only remains of my web site is a page that says "John waz 'ere". Although I do still indulge in Usenet to some extent, I guess.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that all this Web 2.0 stuff is an elaborate joke. People keep providing the punchlines - like the guy on Twitter who is posting as a mime (in the white faced, silent person sense) and the bizarre parodies of American housewife blogs like seriouslysoblessed.blogspot.com - but everyone seems to be ignoring the fact that the punchlines have come and the joke is over.


Charlie @ 40: I thought that was common knowledge. Scalzi keeps a half-dozen clones of himself chained in a basement furiously typing on computers. Every once in awhile their situation opresses them, and their output loses that comic edge that Scalzi is famous for. Then he has to go downstairs and exhort them, "Laugh, clones!"


@Alex, I haven't heard of chandler before, but from a quick search I get the impression the problems were more generic project ones rather than anything specific to the making of a PIM... unless you have more details?


@ #41, #42

As far as I can tell, Twitter is SMS for the web or semi-offline IRC.


Scalzi tapes bacon to the cat and makes the cat moderate the blog comments.


Sabik, I was thinking that the very social centrality of it might doom the project...


When I first got sick, the doctors made me call someone everyday so people would know if I was alive or not. Then I got to use email, and the last three years, LJ. Turns out it works. I had a stroke on the 5th and people noticed within two days. As it happens, I was already in the hospital, but the lack of posts triggered concern. So networking is good for some of us.


I suppose the obvious question would then be Charlie:

In something like Accelerando you postulate people keeping up with the gestalt via ever more sophisticated means. Originally however its all net data and intelligent agents. So given the social networks are at least part of that equation, what would a Stross-friendly social network look like? How would it provide the fuzzy feel of your wide social network without being a distraction and timehog?


Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Recently I compared Twitter to a palantir. You keep on staring into it; it keeps giving you a skewed version of someone else's reality. And focus is an issue. I know for myself that I would simply spend my day endlessly refreshing Trent Reznor's feed. Other users are probably more disciplined than that, and more power to them. But I have enough trouble focusing as it is.

And now to set down to actual work...


So if a monk creates an account in Facebook it is human-derived, eh? Good to know.


Marilee's experience is a bit like mine. I'm almost completely housebound and can't sustain real-time, face-to-face interactions very long at all. When I have regular, several-times-a-day contact with a bunch of folks who know me, acute episodes get spotted sooner, and the sustained interactions make it much easier to identify longer-term trends. In addition, I do a lot of...pre-writing, I guess you'd call it, on both LiveJournal and Twitter: colleagues and I poke at the seeds of ideas enough to see if they feel like more effort.

And that's how it works for me. Since I'm neither Charlie nor Scalzi, I am not surprised that my sweet spot isn't exactly like either of theirs. The key, as always, is to do enough experiments to find out what works for us as individuals, and then to do that stuff and not other stuff.


>I guess I'm going to have to write some sort of app to actively search out and destroy...

If you write it, here's the acronym I've bantered about when I realized that 99% of the material on the Internet is, to put it simply, crap.
"SADE" - Search And Destroy Engine, a malicious piece of software designed to remove all web pages from the Internet. Feel free to steal the name if you can add the social networking sites to it's functionality.

Topic at hand:
I only put something up on linked-in after I got laid off in late 2008. Did I get a single job offer from anyone on the site? No. But it does give me a way to get in touch with people I used to work with that have also been laid off whose e-mail I don't have. Luckily, I am now drawing a paycheck again. "Under-employed" is the term being bantered about so prevalently here in the US to describe my current employment status. I'll just say I now work for one of the most despised companies in America...AT&T. (cue the sounds of the damned)


Some interesting material hotlinked to from the personal blog of the Online Discussion Expert for PLoS., including two dissertations.

The Evolution of Facebook
Category: Blogging • Society • Technology
Posted on: February 8, 2009 1:53 AM, by Coturnix

I've been on Facebook since the beginning, in 2005. I explored it and studied it.....


LinkedIn hasn't, historically, been the social networking time sink that FaceBook is. For most of its existence, it was, essentially, socially networked resumés and that's it. A professional networking tool. A web rolodex. It's started to get a little more showy, with the ability to post pictures and have discussions, but it's still nowhere near the FaceBook zone, let alone MySpace.

You would probably be safe getting involved with LinkedIn, as long as you resolve to only link to true professional contacts. It might be useful to use an obfuscated name, rather than your own name, in order to avoid excessive fan link requests, dealing with which could suck up too much of your time.


I can sympathize with the "attractive nuisance" of FB and the rest. I have finally made my peace with them, and they are a balance in my life exactly where they need to be.

Once tamed, they are incredible tools, and let me keep my family posted on my life from half the world away without having to really keep in touch with them as much as I would have to otherwise. Now, I like my family, but when they're many and I am few, time savers like the post once, view by many nature of the web really help.

Plus, the free Texas Hold'em app has saved me hundreds in real poker I would otherwise be doing. ;)


People, people... Twitter is .plan and "finger" for the internet. And some of you call yourselves *nix geeks. In fact lots of online stuff makes more sense if you consider Teh Internet as a Unix system and ask yourself what systems old multi-user mainframes had for keeping track of users and their data... IM = talkd, Twitter = finger, email = er, email.

For ten points (and a billion dollars): what's next?


Sorry, but I always thought .plan and finger were the .plan and finger for the internet. :-)

Granted, few people have active finger servers and .plan files, much less ones they actually update, but it's perfectly possible and doable.


David: happy to expose something as old-school and obscure as finger to the whole internets via an open port on your personal machine? Cos I'm not... And most people don't have (or don't know they have) the client anyway anyway.


I am a total hypocrite with no moral fibre whatsoever, and just joined Twitter after being sold on it by a friend.