Archive for March, 2008

Sorting out the Social Media Conflicts

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Professor Patrick Regan, conflict management and social mediaWe are here today with a distinguished guest that sits outside the realm of social media, but is rather a Political Science professor. (In fact, he was a professor of mine once upon a time). Before all of you think that I have lost my mind, let me explain further. Professor Patrick Regan is an expert in conflict management resolution and game theory, having authored several books including Organizing Societies for War, and the upcoming Sixteen Million One (excerpts found on his site). Thanks for joining us today, Professor.



1 – What do you think about social media in general?

Social media is new and fascinating to me. It is not a medium that I grew up with, so it is a bit harder to get use to, but I can certainly see how this forum for communication can fundamentally change the way people react to public problems. We can see this, for instance, in Tibet today. The Chinese government has overwhelming capabilities to suppress the Free Tibet movement, but the movement has what you refer to as the social media on its side. China quickly tried to shut down as much of this as possible. China is not alone is recognizing the immense power of the social media, as political campaigns today will attest.

One of the downsides – if there really are downsides – to this medium is that conventional forms of communication get marginalized. At first this shows up as loss of profit, of which I am little concerned, but without of viable free and open conventional press we will suffer from the potential abuse by those in power. At least in the short term there needs to be some balance. The unfortunate inclination is for conventional media to respond to the challenge posed by the social media by consolidating and brining less and less variability and initiative into the conventional media. Sounds like doom and gloom, and in the end the more open media will win.

2 – You might not have drawn a parallel of your field of expertise with social media in the past, but I believe there to be striking similarities between social media and game theory, more specifically the prisoner’s dilemma. Cooperation (friending users) is key. What is your take on this?

Game theory provides for us a way to think about choices, how choices are made under certain types of constraints. Your expected payoffs from some action matter a lot, and how you conceive of your expectations and the value of the outcome is a function of information. Game theorists ask questions about how resolved the actors are to press for their preferred outcome, and the like. Cooperation is a bit more difficult if both sides are committed to getting their way, and game theory can show us why. We also know from game theory that the frequency with which we expect to replay the game matters a lot. If it is a one off game, just do what is best for you. But if you’re going to see this person again, then cooperation might be a better strategy. I think this is what you mean by ‘friending users’ – though I bet that word is not in the Webster’s dictionary! The more information we have about those we interact with the more opportunity we have to shape outcomes that are mutually beneficial. Now in principle, if you have a lot of information – at least if it is one-sided information – then there is the opportunity to coerce or exploit as well. A free, open, unregulated social media portends to reduce one-sided information and increase the frequency of interactions over ideas.

3 – There has been a great deal of controversy in the largest social news site, in which many of the top site contributors were planning a revolt and were getting ready to organize on a live podcast. Toward the end of the podcast, the founders of Digg came on to directly address the crowd and respond to their questions. Typically, Digg has not been very responsive to its users as of late. Do you feel that the Digg founders resolved the conflict in an effective manner?

I am not an expert on, though I have read a bit about the revolt. Compromise borne of concessions approaches a necessary condition for a negotiated settlement. Absent concessions, stable outcomes pretty much have to result from a disparity of power, and therefore from coercion. The very first concession in any bargaining environment is the agreement to discuss. By implication if you agree to discuss then you agree that there is some point on which you would give. It might not be enough to settle the dispute, but the recognition is one that implicitly points to the potential for movement. As I gather it the Digg folks did this. Did they come all the way across the table? Not to my knowledge. One way to think of this is that they don’t see it as what we would call an iterative game, but rather each move is a one shot deal. My sense is from reading about this is that the contributors see this as a repeated game. They want compromise and the Digg folks want to coerce behavior.

The protest might be one way to demonstrate that repeated plays are valuable, and maybe the norm. But the protesters also have to realize that successful negotiations most often require concessions from both sides. They can’t expect to be completely coercive any more than they would accept that from Digg. The real key would be demonstrating to Digg that they get a better outcome if they see this as a repeatedly played game or interaction.

4 – More on Digg. The following month, there was a Digg Town Hall event in which the founders had a live webcast where questions could be asked (although they had a list prior to the show, so live participants were not given true voice). Was this an effective method?

It seems that it is effective if both sides play the game. It might not be how I would organize a negotiating session to sort this out, but it sounds to me like some of the contributors bought into it. Better, maybe, to offer to bring an agenda to the table around which discussions or negotiations can take place. By what I understand of this relationship the contributors participate on for the personal sense of value (I get my views out there); folks do this either for a job or the potential to sell it to a start up venture, that is take it commercial. The contributors would have to demonstrate that has no value without the contributors, but also to show that they value over the long haul.

Maybe you should all try to get a mediator to sit down with you to work this out. Seems pretty simple on the face of it.

5 – One of the key elements in trying to resolve conflict is the underlying assumption that both sides are rational. Do you think that both sides of the fence are being rational here?

Rationality refers to cost benefit maximization. It could be that the Digg folks are under some sort of constraint to diversity their portfolio of contributors so that they can set this up to be more commercially viable (I’m just guessing). If that is so, then they might be acting rational by compelling diversification. The Contributors might also be seeing their personal viability being challenged by the new constraints on making the headlines. Both can be considered rational in a maximization framework. Is there middle ground? Sure seems like it to me. It almost seems like people aren’t explaining motives and with a clear idea of why each side is being so resolute, concessions might actually be easy.

6 – For those that are not familiar with the prisoner’s dilemma, can you expound on it a bit and how you think it falls within the social media world?

Prisoners dilemma is just a way to think about how choices are made. In the dispute with Digg it is whether to open the process up to the most prolific and interesting or creating diversity. This is a bit like cooperating and defecting in the prisoners dilemma game.

To my mind the idea of a prisoners dilemma is useful for many types of social interactions, the social media might be but one. We use to use it to understand the arms race, the ending of civil wars, and the like. It is really just a way to think about the value of cooperation over defection, and under what conditions can both side rationally conclude that doing the “wrong” thing is right. Everyone knew the nuclear arms race was silly, but both sides went happily down that silly path, and appeared quite rational in doing so. Funny how the world works!

7 – Do you think that social media may one day find its way into your political / game theory teachings? How would you see something like this come about?

I teach a lot about Osama bin Laden this semester and I suspect that much of his communication might fall under what you would describe as the social media. So if his form of communication meets such standards, then the world’s most sought after villain is making great use of social media. But I think I’ll leave you and your readers to figure out whether he is leading, following, or uninvolved with social media.

Thanks for stopping by, Professor Regan – you’ve been a wonderful guest!

It has been a pleasure.

If you would like to see more about Professor Regan, here is an interview he did after doing research for his latest book:

Can You Take a Vacation From Social Media?

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Social Media Vacation
Why haven’t you frontpaged yet? I want to go for a swim already.

The short answer: no.

The longer answer:
So I’ve been out for most of the week on vacation. Which got me to thinking – can you really take a vacation from social media?
I mean, how can you expose yourself to risking all those great tech/news nuggets like WordPress 2.5 Release Candidate?
Once you have social media in your system, it’s hard to step away from all those RSS feeds and social sites.

Especially when most hotels have free wifi (in the USA anyway, thanks for pointing this out, Tim). They’re in on it too. A hotel employee actually asked me if I had wireless, which was pretty amusing. In any case, it’s important to break away from social media from time to time.

Perhaps we take ourselves too seriously in social media. We blog, podcast, Twitter, lifestream, RSS, aggregate, rant, and vote. Does the “outside world” think we are nuts? Probably.

Are we the news source? We break the news. Sometimes we even make the news. Trying to separate the signal from of the noise isn’t easy, and this is what we are tasked to do.  So I ask you again, are we the bloggers, the real news source?

All told, it’s good to be back… even though I never really left 🙂

Social Media is Giving Static Websites New Life

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Dying Websites

Photo by Laenulfean

About a week ago I read a ProBlogger post called, "Have Blogs Killed Conventional Websites?". It was a Guest Post by Suzanne Falter-Barns. In this post Suzanne compares conventional websites to blogs as she tries to determine whether conventional websites are a dying breed.

The post brought up a lot of recent anxiety for me. I remember battling with these same thoughts about 18 months ago when I started my first blog. Up until that point all I had were static websites. It didn’t take me long after I started to blog and add in other Social Media activities to realize that I had nothing to fear from Blogs.

My answer to Suzanne’s question about whether Blogs have killed the conventional website is an emphatic, "No." Rather, due to Social Media & blogging, the standard static websites are evolving…. not dying.

I don’t think that Social Media is killing the static Websites at all. In fact, Social Media is giving static Website’s new life.

6 Basic Social Media Activities that can Give a Static Website New Life

  1. Opens up the Lines of Communication between Customer/Clients & Website Owner. You can do this in many ways. Such as Forums or adding a Blog to your Static Website.
  2. Let your Customer/Clients know via a Blog about Sales, Promotions, New items, Recalls, etc. Adding a Blog with a RSS feed to your website is a great way to let your customers and readers know about important updates.
  3. Adding a Blog to your Website can add new content / web pages to your site. This causes more entrances to your Website for Serps and for Viewers.
  4. Add Social Bookmarking buttons to your static pages and let viewers bookmark them. This can add extra traffic to your website when their social bookmarks are shared with others.
  5. Using Social Media can let your website compete with other websites/blogs that have larger marketing bank accounts.
  6. Using Photo sharing for your Product Images can bring traffic in to your website.

The list can keep on going, but my point is still the same. The Static Website is not going anywhere, but the successful ones will add Social Media.

I designed my first static website in 2001 and many, many more followed. It was in 2006 that my anxiety began to get really intense about blogging and other social media. I love security and stability and whatever was happening to the Web at that moment was freaking me out. What is a Blog? What is Social Networking? Why must I change?! But, after that initial temper tantrum I became very determined to not let my Static Websites fall to the waste side. I started researching Blogging & Social Media to see what I could do to adapt my static websites to what the web world was becoming. I wanted to learn what made a blog special compared to a static website…. what made a blog different than what I had already. Why should I feel so threatened by "The Blog".

Through that research and the year or so that followed I realized that the Blog is NOT killing the Conventional Website!! In fact, I feel that
Social Media is causing websites to evolve into so much more.
So much more is being offered to the small business website. Blogging keeps the communication open with your customers and potential customers. Other Social Media activities helps get you seen and noticed. Social Media Marketing lets you market your products and services without the extreme cost of other marketing. Also, social media can make sure that your good name isn’t being tarnished. And, if it has been it can be fixed.

Plus, many Static Websites have been around for a very long time. Some search engines consider the website’s age when ranking it in its Search Engine. So, having one of these so called, dying breeds can be a very, very good thing. So, instead of morning its loss celebrate it with adding Social Media to it…. Add a Blog.

Old School Webmasters don’t you dare believe that Blogging & other Social Media is killing the Static Website. Social Media is going to take your Static Website to bigger places… that is if you will let it.

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