Archive for July 2007

Jul/07

12

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…

internetdogThere’s a bit of a tempest brewing over the behavior of John Mackey, CEO at Whole Foods. Seems Mr. Mackey was a regular on a Yahoo! financial forum, where, under a pseudonym, he talked up his company. He also used that pseud to cast aspersions on Wild Oats, which is a target for acquisition by Whole Foods.

According to a  Reuters article “Mackey said he “posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.”

He’s absolutely right. It’s fun to post to message boards. And lots of people do it under pseudonyms.

There’s nothing illegal about it.

Sometimes, though, doing this sort of thing will look pretty bad when the FTC gets around to suing to prevent an acquisition your company is trying to make.

Anonymity and pseudonymity have a valid place in human communication. With the advent of the Internet, that place has grown.  Most folks would agree that it’s better that children, especially, participate in public forums under pseudonyms rather than release information which would make it easy for predators to track them down in person.

The freedom which anonymity and pseudonymity permit — the ability to say what one will without fear of consequences — is a two-edged sword.  Certainly, that freedom can be critical in enabling whistle-blowing where reports of illegal or dangerous behavior would otherwise not be made because the reporters risk their livelihood. It also is useful in support forums, where people are talking about extremely sensitive personal information.  But that freedom also permits participants to engage in irresponsible behavior which runs the gamut from stretching the truth to issuing hurtful personal attacks on other participants.  Anonymity and pseudonymity also prevent the transference of respect gained for excellent contributions to a space into the contributor’s offline life.

It’s our experience that if the purpose of a discussion space is the exchange of valuable information,  it’s critical that participants be identified by their real names. Otherwise, it’s simply impossible for participants to perform the essential task of “considering the source.”  Spaces where people contribute under their real names are more readily integrated into the participants’ offline lives.  It becomes more worthwhile to take the time to post that tidbit which could help your colleagues when your boss knows that it’s you who made that contribution.  And of course, it’s a lot easier to maintain decorum when everyone knows that they will be held accountable for what is done under their name.

Mackey has done nothing illegal, but his behavior strikes a lot of people as unethical.  Just as we structure our workplaces and other organizations to encourage ethical, productive, responsible behavior, we need to structure our online spaces to do the same. Requiring that people identify themselves using the name they use everywhere else in their lives is one of the better ways to harness the power of personal accountability towards that end. 

There’s a bit of a tempest brewing over the behavior of John Mackey, CEO at Whole Foods. Seems Mr. Mackey was a regular on a Yahoo! financial forum, where, under a pseudonym, he talked up his company. He also used that pseud to cast aspersions on Wild Oats, which is a target for acquisition by Whole Foods.

According to a  Reuters article “Mackey said he “posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.”

He’s absolutely right. It’s fun to post to message boards. And lots of people do it under pseudonyms.

There’s nothing illegal about it.

Sometimes, though, doing this sort of thing will look pretty bad when the FTC gets around to suing to prevent an acquisition your company is trying to make.

Anonymity and pseudonymity have a valid place in human communication. With the advent of the Internet, that place has grown.  Most folks would agree that it’s better that children, especially, participate in public forums under pseudonyms rather than release information which would make it easy for predators to track them down in person.

The freedom which anonymity and pseudonymity permit — the ability to say what one will without fear of consequences — is a two-edged sword.  Certainly, that freedom can be critical in enabling whistle-blowing where reports of illegal or dangerous behavior would otherwise not be made because the reporters risk their livelihood. It also is useful in support forums, where people are talking about extremely sensitive personal information.  But that freedom also permits participants to engage in irresponsible behavior which runs the gamut from stretching the truth to issuing hurtful personal attacks on other participants.  Anonymity and pseudonymity also prevent the transference of respect gained for excellent contributions to a space into the contributor’s offline life.

It’s our experience that if the purpose of a discussion space is the exchange of valuable information,  it’s critical that participants be identified by their real names. Otherwise, it’s simply impossible for participants to perform the essential task of “considering the source.”  Spaces where people contribute under their real names are more readily integrated into the participants’ offline lives.  It becomes more worthwhile to take the time to post that tidbit which could help your colleagues when your boss knows that it’s you who made that contribution.  And of course, it’s a lot easier to maintain decorum when everyone knows that they will be held accountable for what is done under their name.

Mackey has done nothing illegal, but his behavior strikes a lot of people as unethical.  Just as we structure our workplaces and other organizations to encourage ethical, productive, responsible behavior, we need to structure our online spaces to do the same. Requiring that people identify themselves using the name they use everywhere else in their lives is one of the better ways to harness the power of personal accountability towards that end.

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Jul/07

7

Discussion Wiki?

The Learning Circuits folks have a new space which they are calling the “Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki.”

They introduce it by observing “Here the community can take on topics of interest to the elearning and learning fields. The wiki can afford a longer, more involved dialogue than the somewhat here today, gone tomorrow approach the typical blog allows.”

Um, possibly.  The platform they are using is pbwiki, which I like a lot and have used for a number of projects.  But wikis are essentially collections of documents.  And documents, though they can be terrific catalysts for conversation,  are in themselves not really well structured to encourage dialogue.  Most folks are sort of timid about editing a document someone else has started.

Some wiki platforms, pbwiki included, have space for comments below each document, sort of the way blogs have comment spaces. This affordance does get us a bit closer to a space which feels comfortable for dialogue.

But in our experience, if dialogue is what is sought, there are certain essential affordances which need to be embedded within the software to facilitate discussion.

I really like wikis. I use them each and every day in my professional life, and pretty often for my personal life, too. But not for dialogue!  For dialogue, I want robust discussion software, not a half-baked comments feature.

Ok, so I’m spoiled. Our platform features wikis for which the comments feature *is* backed by a robust discussion engine. The document we’re editing goes at the top of the thread, and the discussion about it takes place below.  I can generate a read all new material path by clicking a single link from the first page. I can upload attachments to my comment, link to other comments elsewhere in the site. And, perhaps most importantly, we have people who are paid to go there every day and attend to what’s happening there. You can’t have dialogue where there isn’t anyone to talk to.

As of today, the last action on the Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki was 5 days ago, and the one page I could find which had  comments enabled I haven’t been able to re-locate. There’s no clue, anywhere, that I can find as to what the “site-wide password” which enables the editing function might be on this “totally open” wiki.  Some of these issues are likely just growing pains, as the folks behind this project figure out the software and what kind of investment of time is necessary to get this new initiative off the ground.  But I’m concerned that these folks, who are some of the most knowledgeable in the field about Web 2.0 and its potential for learning, have picked the wrong tool for the job.  And I’m sort of impatient for the fascination with the new shiny stuff to wear off to the point that folks recognize the strengths of well-developed older tools, like, say, discussion fora, for things like, well, discussions! 

The Learning Circuits folks have a new space which they are calling the “Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki.”

They introduce it by observing “Here the community can take on topics of interest to the elearning and learning fields. The wiki can afford a longer, more involved dialogue than the somewhat here today, gone tomorrow approach the typical blog allows.”

Um, possibly.  The platform they are using is pbwiki, which I like a lot and have used for a number of projects.  But wikis are essentially collections of documents.  And documents, though they can be terrific catalysts for conversation,  are in themselves not really well structured to encourage dialogue.  Most folks are sort of timid about editing a document someone else has started.

Some wiki platforms, pbwiki included, have space for comments below each document, sort of the way blogs have comment spaces. This affordance does get us a bit closer to a space which feels comfortable for dialogue.

But in our experience, if dialogue is what is sought, there are certain essential affordances which need to be embedded within the software to facilitate discussion.

I really like wikis. I use them each and every day in my professional life, and pretty often for my personal life, too. But not for dialogue!  For dialogue, I want robust discussion software, not a half-baked comments feature.

Ok, so I’m spoiled. Our platform features wikis for which the comments feature *is* backed by a robust discussion engine. The document we’re editing goes at the top of the thread, and the discussion about it takes place below.  I can generate a read all new material path by clicking a single link from the first page. I can upload attachments to my comment, link to other comments elsewhere in the site. And, perhaps most importantly, we have people who are paid to go there every day and attend to what’s happening there. You can’t have dialogue where there isn’t anyone to talk to.

As of today, the last action on the Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki was 5 days ago, and the one page I could find which had  comments enabled I haven’t been able to re-locate. There’s no clue, anywhere, that I can find as to what the “site-wide password” which enables the editing function might be on this “totally open” wiki.  Some of these issues are likely just growing pains, as the folks behind this project figure out the software and what kind of investment of time is necessary to get this new initiative off the ground.  But I’m concerned that these folks, who are some of the most knowledgeable in the field about Web 2.0 and its potential for learning, have picked the wrong tool for the job.  And I’m sort of impatient for the fascination with the new shiny stuff to wear off to the point that folks recognize the strengths of well-developed older tools, like, say, discussion fora, for things like, well, discussions!

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