Looking forward to MIXing in Las Vegas

This Saturday I’m flying to Las Vegas to attend Mix conference. Microsoft Austria invited me (all these years of iResistance are finally paying off!) to visit the world’s capital of gambling – of course I’ll report my trip on this very blog and via Twitter. After my return from the US you and me hopefully know anything there is to know about one-armed bandits, striptease clubs with high moral standards, new Microsoft web publishing techniques and the status quo of the cloud.

Mix Konferenz in Las Vegas

Plus I expect to do a couple of video interviews – I’m not sure why Microsoft called this place “The Commons”, but there is definitely a hang-out and socializing place, which I will take full advantage of since some sessions are quite code-related. Read more

Weekly Blogistan Round-Up no. 23/2009

This weekly round-up comes with a built-in 24 hours of delay, as the author was extremely busy during the last weekend launching the Austrian Internet Council [site in German]. This was an amazing proof of the power of social media: within the short time span of 5 days we our project was the cover story on ORF FutureZone, Austria’s biggest Tech News site. Crowdsourcing is great, but it can be quite time-consuming, especially when there’s a lot of interest and involvement. So, without any further ado, let’s jump right into this week’s hot social media topics!

Ignore everybody!

breas! Hugh Macleod of Gapingvoid published his first book titled Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Just ordered my copy – I’m looking forward to some inspiring quotes and cartoons:

The first rule of business, is never sell something you love. Otherwise you may as well be selling your children.

The Real Pip-Boy Deal

The Pip Boy saved me various time – while I was strolling through the post-nuclear wastelands of Fallout 3. But the nifty little arm-computer might soon enter real life: Engadget shows pictures of an impressive flexible OLED-Display:

The 4-inch organic electroluminescent display sports up to 1.67 million colors, QVGA (320 x 240) 100ppi resolution, and can be bent to a curvature radius of about 2 inches. Hopefully, this doesn’t become a must-have fashion accessory any time soon: while it’s perfectly appropriate attire for post-apocalyptic wastelands, we don’t know how well it’ll fly at the sorts of high society social events we normally frequent.

Seesmic Desktop: no Air required

TechCrunch interviewed Seismic founder Loic LeMeur – and the most charming Leena Rao managed to make the man talk:

According to Le Meur, Seesmic will soon be offering a browser based client. This offering is actually appealing, considering that Adobe’s AIR platform has some strange UI bugs and quirks and tends to use a good amount of resources on computers. And Seesmic will also launch an iPhone app, which is currently under wraps along with the web-based product.

Jeremy’s own Affiliate-Network

Jeremy Shoemaker has been writing about affiliate marketing for quite some time; but recently he launched his own affiliate-network and published a post about his experiences. I’m really curious about his plans:

Sure I hear you… your thinking “Why the hell would you pay people to sign up for a free course?” It’s a great question and I think when the dust settles around the program I will write all about it, why I did what, and what exact effect it had. I do have a method to my madness but it’s not as many have guessed. We will see if it works but that is for another post

Twitter is becoming infrastructure

Regular Geek posted an interview view on twitter – his main point: Twitter is shifting from an online service to a basic infrastructure upon which early adopters are constructing an eco-system:

So, why is marketing and economy so important to Twitter becoming infrastructure? Without an economy building on top of Twitter data and functionality, Twitter would just be a toy. With people researching the data that is generated from Twitter, it becomes much more important. In order to monetize the system, they can sell the data, but monetization becomes much easier when you become ubiquitous.

Can’t argue with that – with all the various mash-ups and the growing interest in real-time search, it seems that Twitter is here to stay. At least for now.

Bing beats Yahoo

Microsoft’s new search engine hat a great start: TechCrunch reports that Bing overtook Yahoo – now the question is: will this trend last or will the wearer of the ancient headband #2 leap for a comeback?

The company’s analysis for Thursday finds that in the U.S. Bing overtook Yahoo to take second place on 16.28%, with Yahoo Search currently at 10.22%. For the sake of comparison: Google’s U.S. market share is pegged at 71.47%, and its worldwide share at a whopping 87.62% (vs. 5.62% for Bing and 5.13% for Yahoo).

Content ain’t king

“The idea that ‘content is king’ in blogging is total bullshit” says Viral Garden:

Every day I read hundreds of blog posts. And every day, I see dozens of truly GREAT posts that get no comments. Every day I see dozens of pretty good posts that get dozens of comments and have vibrant conversations.
The difference? Most of the bloggers that write those pretty good posts are also pretty good about leaving their blog and interacting with people on OTHER sites. They comment on their reader’s blogs. They tweet their links on Twitter. They are ACTIVELY social with social media.

Interesting thesis… I’d say that both factors come into play. Social media spamming will just piss people off unless you got some stories that are actually worth watching your moves.

Pic of the week

I admit: I just couldn’t decide between these two beautiful shots. A direct path was taken by eyesplash Mikul, it’s a free-handed shot. The seconded picture portrays a female lying wolf in the zoo of Zürich and was taken by Tambako the Jaguar:



Video of the week

Boats are only people – pretty unreliable ones, to be exact. These love boat passenger are in for a wet treat – feel the pain of these great sailors:

This is the end – of this week’s round-up. Thanks for stopping by and offering me some of your Whuffies. Let’s do it like this: I’ll keep posting and you’ll keep coming back and drop a dime from time to time :mrgreen:

Input for weekly round-upGot any news you’d like to read about in my weekly round-up of current blogosphere events?
Don’t hesitate to contact me! Of course I’ll include a backlink to your original story.

So don’t hesitate – just click here for the contact form and give me an update on your issues: Give me input!.

Contenture – Support the sites you love

Usually, I don’t get too excited about new ad networks – but since Contenture has been developed by the team behind Clicky, I’m quite sure that this service deserves a closer look. The idea is simple: by paying a monthly flat fee to Contenture, users help webmaster make their sites sustainable. Via a JavaScript-Snippet, the Contenture networks measures users’ visits to participating sites and spreads the money accordingly.

Basically, Contenture is reversing the classic ad model: instead of generating indirect revenue streams via AdSense and affiliate banners, webmasters profit from their regular users. I think that Contenture enters the stage at a quite early time, but basically the financial sustainability will become one of the key questions of the future web. There are some caveats involved though: such a network can only bring benefit to its webmaster if enough users are willing to pay – since most surfers are even reluctant to pay for online-services, I doubt that the big rush will take place instantly.

contenture anti-ad network

But the team has obviously kept that challenge in mind and came up with a *very* tempting idea:

Contenture is a new way to monetize your web site. Ad revenues are poor, unless you’re a big name – and even then, they’re still not that great. With Contenture, you make money for every visit to your site from a Contenture user. Furthermore, Contenture makes it dead simple to add premium level features to your web site with very little work. Think of it as a way to take your site Freemium. For example, you could give paying users priority access to new articles, exclusive access to your archives, an ad-free experience, and more. These features are built right into Contenture, but you can do even more with a little work on your end.

Now what’s so special about that? Think about it this way: during the last weeks, a number of big affiliate networks – especially Clickbank – have got into a struggle with several kinds of malware-clean-up software: once those programs start deleting CB-cookies, the fun part is over. Contenture offers a much more stable system and establishes a monetization system which doesn’t require any ongoing user actions. Once a couple of popular bloggers start posting mini-tutorials or premium contents (Twitter reports are still pretty hot), Contenture will experience a massive grow:

Contenture offers web sites the ability to (optionally) add premium level features to their web site. One of these features is to remove ads, but that’s just one of many. For example, a site could give paying users priority access to new articles, exclusive access to their archives, special commenting abilities, and more. These types of features are built right in to Contenture. In other words, we’re bringing the Freemium business model to the masses.
Here’s another way to look at it. Contenture is the first that lets content providers create premium “micro services” throughout their sites. This is a crucial variable that other micropayment services have failed to implement.

And this is just the beginning – there are more features to come, like pay-per-article, tools for subscription-based models and much more. In this respect, Contenture not only is the first “anti-ad-network” but at the same time a valuable toolkit for developing micro-payment models.

The pricing seems rather reasonable to me – the minimum fee is $6,99. Users can pay more on an optional basis. Contenture keeps 20% of the revenues, which is very low compared to the standard 50% of most ad networks. Contenture works with all types of sites, but there are plugins for WordPress and Drupal – the integration is one in two minutes. There is no approval system, but Contenture reserves the right to delete accounts.

Conclusion: Contenture arrived a little early, but the idea is great and from my two years of Clicky experience, I definitely know that these guys understand how micro-traffic analysis works. There are no downturns involved – I activated the Contenture plugin on datadirt today and I’m not expecting a massive income stream yet, but I expect this to grow quite big. So it’s probably a good idea to jump on the band-wagon as soon as you can.

More reviews:

Stefan Jacobasch on Contenture [in German]
Micropayment-Based Freemium Models For All. (If People Use It.) on TechCrunch
The anti-ad network
Monetize content without ads?

Weekly Blogistan Round-Up no. 23/2009

Step in, ladies and gentlemen – welcome to the weekly Blogistan-round-up! It’s my duty to entertain you (and sometimes maybe even piss you off), but who cares – it’s all in the blog, st00pid! From Google Wave to the sluttiest brides in 2008, the blogosphere is here to cover your every information need.

Google announces Wave

The buzz is on – Google has announced the release of their newest project called “Wave” later this year. The stakes are high, as Wave claims to redefine the way we communicate and collaborate on the web. E-Mail, contacts social networks – Wave will tear down the boundaries between documents and dialogue:

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Google posted a couple of screenshots, future beta testers can sign up here. This in-depth presentation from Google I/O waters my mouth; and btw: Wave will be completely Open Source.


So much for Twitter’s trending topics

“But all good things, they say, never last”, sang prince. And now TechCrunch is saying the same about Twitter’s trending topics:

Up until recently, Twitter’s trending topics – which are prominently displayed on their Search homepage and now also in the sidebar when you’re using the Twitter website – were an awesome way to get a feel of what was buzzing on the Web, in a way that virtually no other web service was able to do.


But then came the pirates and Michael is really pissed!

Today, when you look at Twitter’s trending topics, you’ll notice that the large majority of trends are memes started by a single user or a group of users, with the main goal offering entertainment rather than spreading information. That’s all fine and dandy – no harm in having fun – and I realize well that Twitter’s trending topics are not necessarily required to be giving you and me an overview of stuff that really matters, but I can’t help but think it’s a pity that that list is starting to turn into the top 10 of chain letters people used to circulate through e-mail messages in the late nineties.

Oh dear gosh, I wish more people would recognize that manipulating social media platforms is so much more fun than obeying their “laws”…

The real name problem

Many native Indians have names like “Robin kills the Enemy”. Their name is in their passport, the same applies to people with exotic names like Lisa Strawberry. But if your name sounds like made up (but actually isn’t), you might have trouble keeping your Facebook account. An article on Spiegel Online [in German] reports that a couple of users got deleted without any previous notice. Facebook’s policy requires you to use your real name, and with the ongoing success of the platform a lot of users are running multiple fake profiles with strange names. Removing these might be a good idea for FB in terms of scalability and reliability, but the collateral damage has become so big that the group Facebook: don’t discriminate against Native surnames!!! already has more than 4.000 members, among them the likes of Linnie Birdchief, Carl Fourstar jr. and Sandy White Hawk. Facebook speaks person Barry Schmidt admitted mistakes, and the said accounts have been reactived, but the waiting period is quite long as only 850 people are on the payroll of the world’s largest social network.

Russian investors buy a share of Facebook

New York Times reports that Russian internet investment company Digital Sky Technologies acquired 1.96% of Facebook for the sum of $200 million:

Digital Sky won because its founders Yuri Milner and Gregory Finger have strong experience running Internet properties in Eastern Europe and Russia, and “a deep, advanced understanding” of social networking technology, Zuckerberg said.

We all know that FB is burning money at an amazing rate, but Zuckerberg still plays it cool – after all, he is running the largest social network in the world. Yet still numbers have gone down: when Microsoft purchased 1.6% in 2007 they had to pay $240 million – during the last two years, the overall value of the platform has decreased from $15 to $10 billion despite the growth in user accounts.

Happy B-Day, Mr. Shoemoney!

Jeremy Shoemaker turned 35 this week – congrats, man! I love your blog and there you’re the person who taught me the most valuable lessons about online marketing and blogging – thx for your excellent posts and keep up the great work! You definitely got a fan in Vienna :mrgreen:

This week’s href=””>T-Shirt of the week is also definitely worth a look: it was printed by And the comments say it all… when I saw this app I instantly had to order mine!

What is a Micro-Scobble?

Robert Scobble is a tech evangelist and twitter legend. Disqus blog published and interesting interview with man responsible for the tweet-frequency-unit “Micro-Scobble”:

I grew up in silicon valley, I had no choice. My Dad was an engineer and I grew up in Cupertino about a mile from Apple Computers. I had an Apple Computer in 1977, in my junior high I was in the first computer club , and I got a tour of Apple when they were one little building. So yeah, I’ve always been around tech.

My bride is not a slut. She just looks like one.

Judith sent me this great article – thx! Take a look at the Top 5 Sluttiest Wedding Dresses Spotted In 2009! Even though is nearly breaks my heart that Miss Carey is no longer single, I have to admit that with this elaborate sense of taste she’d get a job in any brothel in the whole world:

The Mariah Carrey slutty wedding dress certainly doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. Fully equipped with garter belt, stockings, and a main fashion piece better off worn under the dress or on the wedding night, this dress starts us off with its moderately tame slutty fashion.

Video of the week

This one goes out to the Open Source Community – I usually don’t publish ads as the video of the week, but in this case Redhead has done a fantastic job – and with over 3 minutes, in these short-clip times this is almost an online feature movie. Congrats to Peter Novak on this fantastic job!

Pic of the week

New to my weekly round-up: starting this week, I will publish a “pic of the week” – no special topics whatsoever. Since I started digi-SLR myself my appreciation for those perfect shots has grown immensely. Choosing the proper pic wasn’t easy at all, but this Manasquan Reservoir by Joisey Showaa is one fantastic shot:


And that’s about it for this week – thx for visiting my blog, see you again next week!

Input for weekly round-upGot any news you’d like to read about in my weekly round-up of current blogosphere events?
Don’t hesitate to contact me! Of course I’ll include a backlink to your original story.

So don’t hesitate – just click here for the contact form and give me an update on your issues: Give me input!.

Weekly Blogistan Round-Up no. 21/2009

This weekly round-up comes with a free day of delay, as I was pretty business last night taking pictures of the sunset from Braunsberg. Riding my bike home I had to be very careful since a nightly meeting of a rabbit and a motorcycle is usually a very unpleasant experience for both sides. I haven’t digi developped all pics yet, but this one turned out quite nicely:


So back to blogging business – what a week! We now finally know that there actually *are* differences when it comes to the two sexes using social media. Read more

How to… use 1 widget in various WordPress Sidebars

Widget-enabled themes are a good thing, Martha Stewart would probably say – and rightfully so. Configuring one’s sidebar directly via CMS and drag-and-drop is doubtlessly a nifty feature we bloggers don’t want to miss. To kick things up a notch, WordPress allows for an infinite number of different Sidebars. This comes in very handy for putting different sidebar contents on the blog homepage, the single postings and the static pages. But most bloggers who start experimenting with multiple sidebars experience a major draw-back: most plugins can only be used in one sidebar exclusively.

This means that if you have different sidebars for your homepage and your single posts, you cannot for example include the tag cloud widget in both sidebars. (more info: How set up multiple sidebars) But worry not, of course there is a very handy plug-in which solves this problem: Duplicate Sidebar Widgets does what its name implies: it enables you to make up to 25 copies of any widgets, therefore being able to use the same one in up to 25 sidebars. (You probably won’t need that many, though.) btw: just in case anything goes badly wrong, you can always delete your widget-copies later. This solution works for most widgets, but some complex scripts simply refuse this treatment. (Top Commentators is one of those.)

But luckily, there’s Samsarin PHP Widget. While the standard text-widget may only contain HTML but no php, the Samsarin Widget will gladly accept php input. So basically the first step is to copy the php-widget using the aforementioned Duplicate Widget Plugin, and in the second step you have to enter the desired php-function-call manually. This does not just sound like a bit of work and readme-digging, it actually is – but using this method gives you total flexibility in designing your widgetized sidebars.

Weekly Blogistan Round-Up no. 02/2009

tweetbacksNothing like listening to old-school dubstep mixes and surfing the net on a lazy Sunday afternoon – even though I have to admit that turning up the music is kind of my only option right now, since the new Samsung LCD screen I bought yesterday experiences some kind of identity crisis, confusing itself with some kind of alien sound-device by producing a constant annoying noise. But enough complaining, let’s turn our heads and look back on the 7 deadly sins of online-marketing compiled by Shoemoney.

Include the twitter juice!

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to include tweets about your postings directly into the comment thread? tweetbacks by Smashing Magazine does just that:

This plug-in imports tweets about your posts as comments. You can display them in between the other comments on your blog, or display them separately.

The implementation requires a bit of template-fiddling, but the explanations outlines the necessary changes very well.

One for the Lohas

“My paper shredder cuts 100 sheets per minute!” “Mine only cuts 0,02 sheets per minute, but it’s hamster powered!” This fictional dialogue could soon become office reality, as London design consultant Tom Ballhatchet invented the prototype of a “Hamster Powered Paper Shredder”: it takes the little fellow about three quarters of an hour to tear one DIN A4 sheet to pieces, which then become his bedding – the Lauging Squid knows more.

Mind the Tweet?

In the last week, Twitter’s security loopholes have been discussed everywhere: tweeters are used to performance problems (“fail-whale”), but the recent hacks of popular accounts, among them Britney Spears and Barack Obama, created awareness for the basic problem: there is no Twitter API, most 3rd party mash-ups require you to gladly hand over your login to some total stranger. Nick O’Neill posted some interesting thoughts on

Why would developers build for a platform that has only a few million users when they can build identical tools for over 140 or 150 million users? Yes, Facebook can keep the statuses private, and all comment replies as well and theyll continue their phenomenal growth rate. They clearly dont have the development resources though to build tools around their status updates internally. If Facebook opened up statuses tomorrow, Twitter would essentially become a ghost town.

Video of the week: The 3 Rules of the Internet

A song is much easier to remember than a simple text – even heralds in medieval times were aware of that fact. And the same applies to this beautiful beautiful song by Jonathan Mann: “The internet is a less than physical space, containing a multitude of opinions on a wide variety of subjects… written by mostly assholes.” [via monochrom]

So that’s about it for this week – the New Year’s Eve aftermath has worn off (hopefully) and the blogosphere is buzzing again. Let’s see what 2k9 has in store – have a great Sunday, see you next week.

Input for weekly round-up

Got some news?

Got any news you’d like to read about in my weekly round-up of current blogosphere events?
Don’t hesitate to contact me! Of course I’ll include a backlink to your original story.

So don’t hesitate – just click here for the contact form and give me an update on your issues: Give me input!.

Guest post by Kim de Vries: Your Friend has just tackled you

Kim de VriesBite, lick, or tackle them back, or click here to theorize about what this all means. I’m very happy to publish the first guest posting here on datadirt. Kim De Vries, who I met via Facebook, wrote a very interesting paper about the symbolic kind of communication we all know so well from social networks like Facebook. “He who never superpoked shall throw the first rock” – enjoy the reading! Dr. Kim De Vries is working at the California State University Stanislaus, you can reach her at kdevries [at]


Though Facebook was initially the province of college students, it has become popular with a broad range of users since opening its door to anyone with an email address in September 2006. However, until very recently, most research on Facebook has focused on the student demographic rather than exploring how Facebook is growing into a massive online society that is inhabited by many different groups using Facebook in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. The academics studying Facebook generally join it and use it in order to observe students; now that more faculty are using Facebook outside the classroom, to organize events and to socialize, turning the focus to our own use of Facebook reveals that our own communities are being affected as well.

As of August 2008, Facebook is one of the most rapidly growing social networks, boasting 100 million active users, translated into twelve European and a growing number of Asian and African languages. The extent to which groups of people connected on Facebook can be defined as communities is highly debatable and a useful alternative has been suggested by Rieder and Schfer: “forms of interaction and collaboration characterized by fleeting encounters, transient teamwork and weak ties social spaces that may or may not evolve into more stable forms of sociability (2007).” They go on to propose considering these social spaces as “hybrid foam,” with foam’s ephemeral qualities. But when Facebook connections occur between people already connected in other ways, such as professionally, it may act as a stabilizing agent, encouraging those connections to become stronger and more permanent.

Analyzing the kinds of communication that differ from the textual exchanges common via email, blogging and commenting, online forums and so forth shed light on what may occur when we begin to Connect with our colleagues through Facebook. Facebook provides novel and amusing ways for people to connect. More importantly, the connections feel more embodied, so that users may believe they are getting to know people in a more personal way than through an email list or chat room. Participants may also be more inclined to display ludic behavior because by virtue of meeting on Facebook, which is a rather un-serious place, a certain level of playfulness is assumed. However, the fact remains that while we may participate in a variety of communities via Facebook, including fan, artistic, social, familial, and professional, these traces of this communication may be visible to all of our communities, though the communications may only be appropriate to one. Thus, our participation in various spheres actually does not happen in separate ‘bubbles’ but may in an additional way be considers as a sort of foam in which there may be shared borders or interpenetrating cells.

Because various social spheres may interpenetrate on Facebook, academics who participate there risk crossing social boundaries. Just as we warn our students, we have to consider who we add as friends and what they can see us doing. A number of articles have recently focused on the risk of losing students’ respect by using Facebook, yet this does not seem to stop most faculty from using Facebook. And what about what our colleagues may see? What do we gain from taking these communicative risks online, and how is our use of Facebook to communicate and form social connections affecting offline scholarly communities?

These are vast questions and providing a comprehensive answer is beyond the scope of this paper, but considering an exemplary case will suggest what possibilities might be profitably investigated.


Kenneth Burke’s pentad provides a helpful framework with which to understand communication (Burke 1945). According to Burke, any human interaction (or text) may be analyzed in terms of five elements framed as these five questions:

  • Act: What purposeful act has taken place?
  • Agent: Who took this action?
  • Agency: How or with what did they do it?
  • Scene: Where, when and in what context did the act take place?
  • Purpose: Why did they do it? What was their intent?

Rhetorical analysis is then performed by examining the how pairs of the elements function within the interaction or text, and by demonstrating how one member of the pair determines the other member’s nature. The results of such an analysis may reveal contradictions between what is stated by a rhetor (writer, actor, or speaker) and what is supported with the rhetorical evidence he or she presents. In this case however, the issue is not that people on Facebook are trying to willfully mislead each other (though some may be trying to), but rather that the intentions of users in carrying out actions are not the same as the intentions of designers in promoting the same actions, nor are the interpretations of recipients necessarily accurate.

Though communication is always mediated, in the case of Facebook, the physical distance and the interface my both introduce distortions into our understandings of each other, even while creating the impression that we are getting to know each other very well indeed. Performing a rhetorical analysis will help shed some light on how scholars are connecting on Facebook, and on how these connections are affecting our communities. Ultimately we may see that our professional networks are actually being changed by an online interface.

Further, Facebook may be more generally contributing to the development of hybrid agency, shared between user and system. For academics to be come conditioned to this hybrid agency may have quite important implications as well. To explore these issues, and exemplary analysis of some members’ use of the Superpoke application was conducted.

The Five Elements to be Analyzed:


The acts being considered are communications through Facebook applications, and an exchange of Superpoke gestures is the exemplary case. The specific gestures vary, and this variation makes clear that the definition of an “act” is complicated when it is virtual, not actual. Wishing someone “happy birthday” can be expressed through a variety of media without the message varying much, but slapping someone with a trout would be very different if carried out in person; it’s virtual meaning depends on the fact that it is virtual.


The most obvious agents are Facebook users, but arguably the system itself and the developers become agents in the way they channel user actions. Each user chooses how and when to communicate, but the system encourages certain actions by frequently reminding users to respond to communication of another user; by suggesting certain actions — like explicitly choosing to have a gesture featured in the newsfeed; and by rewarding a higher volume of communication generally.


In one sense, members use their own agency–they decide how to communicate. But on Facebook, members use the Facebook platform to communicate, in particular choosing from an array of applications which offer limited choices and in that way channel user behavior. In this case the Superpoke application allows users to make a variety of gestures, largely physical/audible toward one another. A gesture may be sent either to one friend from the user’s friend list, or broadcast to many. Depending on how both sender and receiver have set their privacy options, the gesture may be reported in the Newsfeed (on the member profile page) and on the Minifeeds of each members’ friends. Arguably we see and emergent hybrid agency developing in all of these applications, that combines user agency with that of the system and the developers.


The scene is the Facebook platform, specifically the profile and home pages of the members engaged in the exchange. However, thanks to applications like Plaxo and Friendfeed, which collect social network news across platforms, the gestures maybe re-posted outside of Facebook. Further, the news of the gestures maybe discussed in other venues–in blogs, email, in person–so that the borders of the scene are fluid. The permanence of the gestures, forever recorded, marks a sharp distinction to the real-life actions they mimic.


Possible explanations for participants’ devotion to Facebook and willingness to play are suggested by recent research on the problem of establishing co-presence online (Zhang 2007), how embodiment and presence are experienced in online communities (Marshall 2004), and through consideration of the hybrid foam metaphor recently suggested as a replacement for network (Schfer 2007). Application developers also have their own purposes, the primary being to encourage more and ongoing use of the application.


Purpose is a key element in this analysis because participant interpretation of each other’s purposes shapes the idea each forms of the other’s personality and identity. Further, because online sociality functions in some ways differently from sociality enacted in person, understanding participant motives depends on understanding those differences. Finally, participant purpose is always channelled by the design, and so it always echoes the developers’ purpose to some degree. The analysis begins with the participants’ purpose, because this purpose underlies not just use of Superpoke, but of Facebook more generally.

Jonathan Marshall has argued that participants in online communities often experience “asence” or ontological uncertainty experienced online because “there is no marker of existence beyond the act of communication itself (Marshall 2004).” Facebook differs not only in combining the permanence of the homepage/profile with email- and bulletin board- like functions, but especially in offering games and other applications that mimic physical experiences and leave highly visible traces. Thus on Facebook even if participants are not in steady communication, asence is reduced.

A striking aspect of this shift is the transgressive behavior often exhibited as a matter of course inside Facebook toward those who are colleagues and may become friends. Marshall has suggested that members of online communities may use sexual behavior to establish intimacy and maintain contact, much more so than in face-to-face relationships. Many email lists explicitly warn participants away from overly personal chatter, but this stricture would seem at best counter-productive and at worst stodgy in an environment like Facebook. The flirtatious tone of many Facebook applications may attract users because it perfectly addresses this already established mode of online communication. the appearance of this dynamic in a space that is at least partially professional however, is a shift, and may seem far-fetched to those who have not experienced it. This flirtatious dynamic can be seen clearly with some of the most popular applications.

The Superpoke application allows users to send gestures and actions to friends who have also added Superpoke. The possibilities range from seasonal or holiday greetings, to romantic or sexual acts, to mean or even violent gestures. Wishing someone Happy Chinese New Year is fairly unequivocal, but the actual meaning expressed when one user licks, tackles, whips or throws a sheep at another is open to a wide range of interpretation and sexual innuendo can easily be conveyed. In addition to strengthening a feeling of intimacy through flirtatious behavior, ambiguity may also contribute to making Superpoke seem entertaining to scholarly types; every message or a series of them can be treated as a puzzle to be solved or a cypher to be decoded.

But whatever else is accomplished when these message are exchanged, the goals of the developers are always fulfilled, so long as communication continues.

Examples of Superpoke Exchanges

Ambiguous communicative motives may be observed in the Superpoke feed of Hans Bernhard, a member of the artist group bermorgen.

superpoke examples

If each of the five elements are considered in this exchange, on the surface, agent varies according to who sent the poke, and motive may vary as implied by the different actions chosen. In choosing to use Superpoke instead of text, the participants in the exchange have already opted for a potentially more ambiguous mode of communication, and also one that “feels” more embodied. In the above history of gestures, we see some that are sociable and friendly, such as dancing, giving cookies, hitting the beach, or finding enlightenment. But we also see some that are ambiguous, like throwing Yuri Gagarin or hypnotizing, and some that are downright naughty, like spanking, taking sexy pictures, and going wild. Complicating the interpretive task for participants is the accumulation of gestures, how the gestures directed at one friend compare to those directed at another, and each member’s cultural awareness of what gestures mean. In spite of ample room for misunderstanding, exchanging gestures often leaves the people involved feeling they are getting to know each other much better than if they were simply exchanging text messages. Further, because the gestures occur in what is already defined as a friendship (because participants must be on each other’s friends list) apparent hostility must be assumed as humor, while flirtation may be meant as a joke, or meant seriously. However when we say “seriously about virtual actions, what doers this mean? Were we meeting in person, I would not in fact be able to hypnotize Hans, nor would R. Pettauer be able to toss a long dead astronaut at him. So along with always being already defined as friendly, these actions are also always part of a game the participants play together.

This kind of playful activity seems especially concentrated during times when in a relationship carried out in person, participants might normally meet, whether because of a specific event, like a birthday, or because the relationship is advancing. For example, the following brief but concentrated exchange took place between myself and a fellow internet scholar two days after meeting at a conference at which we’d spent a few hours after the banquet drinking and talking shop, but hadn’t had any further chance to meet for more than a few minutes.


It does not appear to be a very friendly exchange, but in fact carries on the humorous tone already established when we met face to face, and though brief, this exchange served to confirm our initial impressions of each other. Trout-slapping evokes a sort of slap-stick humor, while a restraining order is a melodramatic over-reaction, and so also humorous. A hadouken references an aspect of Asian culture that would be known to fans of videogames, Japanese Anime, or Hong Kong action movies, so the gesture invites acknowledgement of a shared interest.

This may sound quite cozy and altogether positive; two colleagues maintain a connection rather than not. And in fact, it may in some ways be positive since, to continue this example, David and I are slowly moving toward working on some Facebook research together. However,we are also following a path laid out by the Superpoke developers and as we follow that path, we are becoming more and more conditioned to conducting parts of our professional exchanges in the game world, according to it’s rules. Of course, users are not thinking of this when they choose what to do; they are thinking of how much they enjoy feeling more connected and as explained below, this has been an ongoing issue in online sociality.

The Importance of Being Together, or at Least Feeling Like You Are

When friendships form online, they often reach a moment when the new friends would meet face-to-face and the relationship would be carried out offline as well, but when this is prevented by distance or any other factor, the online channels must carry quite a load of information and feeling, which may serve to intensify the virtual exchanges (Marshall). Participants in this kind of relationship often become extremely intimate on an emotional level because physical intimacy is impossible. Note though that this does not only apply to romantic or sexual relations, but to all connections. With those who are physically proximal, we can easily exchange hugs or handshakes, share meals, go to museums or engage in hundreds of other physical activities which because they are public and common may not seem terribly significant or intimate. But shared physical experiences of any kind cement bonds between people, and also reveal a great deal about the participants to each other. We have an ongoing feeling of being together, or ‘co-presence (Zhang 2007). In many ways the exchanges on Facebook seem to stand in for physical encounters–going to lunch or for drinks, attending cultural events, etc.

Superpoke provides a selection of actions that users choose from in order to express interests, political views, flavors of humor, and so on. But any action can be intended seriously, or ironically (or both). Understanding each other’s motives becomes paramount because compressing all contact into an online channel intensifies the exchange, and the more effort users expend in interpretation, the more committed they are to the exchange. So by offering some actions that may be cryptic to some users and require them to make an interpretive effort, developers increase the odds that users will continue the exchange.

Of course not everyone uses Superpoke, but similar exchanges can be observed in Boozemail, Free Gifts, Hug Me, and numerous other applications. Further, as has been pointed out, playing a game conditions us to the game-world or system. In this case Facebook conditions us to a world in which we interact playfully with everyone, whether they are friends or colleagues, shifting the tone of all these relationships in a more playful and sometimes transgressive direction. Playing with others we feel we get to know them better. In addition to asence being reduced and co-presence maintained between individuals, this occurs also in groups and communities.

It seems the playful or ambiguous tone prompted by Superpoke and other applications has influenced professional communities on Facebook, such as the intriguingly titled ‘Critical Theory and Theorists are Hot.’ In fact, many serious scholarly groups now have a presence on Facebook, such as the Institute for Distributed Creativity; Theory.Org; the Electronic Literature Organization; the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts; and of course the Association for Internet Researchers, to name just a few. On the last for example, members can identify who else is attending the conference and find any friends shared in common, which may create a stronger feeling of belonging in the group. In these groups, members interact through wall posts or forum discussions in a manner that may feel more embodied and ‘authentic,’ and especially in conjunction with the other interactions facilitated and even prescribed by Facebook applications that we see a real shift in the way we are meeting and establishing hybrid social/professional relationships. But do we really get to know people in the same way as we would interacting in person, or if not, what impact does the difference have on our personal/professional connections?


Several applications offer to illustrate a user’s social connections, often with the implication that by collecting all kinds of data, some revelation will be found in the subsequently generated map. In fact examining the Facebook application “Nexus” reveals that though network visualization applications are supposed to reflect participants’ social connections, they often offer a distorted view, suggesting that Facebook itself may offer a distorted view. Facebook seems to allow certain kind of expansion of user’s social network. For example, the Nexus screenshot below appears to show a dense network among some of my friends/colleagues, with some connections leading out of the frame from Monty Cantsin and Karen Elliot.

social network

Were we to expand the picture, we would find that Monty Cantsin and Karen Elliot connect this cluster to two other dense cluster of my friends. However, both of those “people” are fictional. Any user can of course see where these kinds of representations are distorted in their own relations, but from the outside, there is no way to know how accurate they are, unless one has the offline knowledge to draw on. In this case, not everyone would know that “Monty Cantsin” is in fact not a real person. Further, unless they are well known in person, even people in one’s own network may interpret notices from Facebook applications that they share movie taste, life goals or other preferences as accurate representations, but are they? In many ways distortions may be introduced that are not discovered until a relationship moves beyond the prescribed interactions of Facebook applications to actual conversation or meeting in person. But seeing behavior that in its playfulness or apparent intimacy is occasionally inappropriate may lead people to perceive it as more authentic and the person observed as more candid and “real.”


This preliminary analysis suggests that Facebook is affecting our communication practices and our communities in several ways. First of all, the rhetorical analysis reveals that while Facebook applications appear to simplify the rhetorical situation by reducing the number of variable elements, in fact the remaining elements become harder to interpret, and agency is divided between users, the system, and developers. Second, because the applications channel user actions in a more playful direction, they condition users into coming to expect this kind of playful exchange and to engage in it themselves across social spheres, rather than distinguishing between them. Third, though these exchanges reduce asence, strengthen feelings of co-presence and make participants feel they know each other better, when not combined with face to face interaction, the opportunity for misperceptions is great.

These conclusions need to be verified and elaborated trough study of a much larger sample, but a challenge in conducting this research is data collection. Because most Facebook users restrict their profiles to friends, observing a representative sample becomes quite difficult. While surveys are being attempted, relying on self-reported behavior has some problems. The best approach now seems to design a Facebook application and that represents the next step proposed in order to determine the wider impact on scholarly communities and connections.

In spite of the risks of transgression and distortion, forming connections that are playful and emotionally more intimate can be positive in personal and professional terms. People with whom we have formed multi-valent relationships online may also become people with whom we might collaborate on research, or organize conference panels, or at least go to for advice when visiting their home countries/cities. If the kind of communication fostered by Facebook does indeed promote these kinds of connections, that will have a profound impact on scholarly communities. Until now, in spite of the ease of communication offered by the Internet, when it comes to collaborative work, “space still matters (Borner 2007).” Thus I ultimately argue that we are making a deal with the devil: users sharing playful and even transgressive exchanges strengthen their social and professional bonds. In circles where communication is often ephemeral, limited to a brief chat at a conference reception or an exchange on a mailing list, Facebook may be especially attractive. But as we use this amusing and useful platform, we are first and always fulfilling the purpose of developers who don’t care what we say, as long as we keep talking.


  • Boyd, Danah. “Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life.” Paper presented at 4S, Montreal, Canada, October 13, 2007.
  • Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1945.
  • Brner, Katy. “Towards Scholarly Marketplaces” at New Network Theory International Conference, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 29, 2007.
  • Marshall, Jonathan. The Online Body Breaks Out? Asence, Ghosts, Cyborgs, Gender, Polarity and Politics. Fibreculture Issue 3, 2004.
  • Rieder, Bernhard and Mirko Tobias Schfer. Hybrid Foam. Social Structure before Network and Community, Paper presented at the BSA Annual Conference 2007, London, April 13 2007.
  • Zhao, Shanyang & Elesh, D. “Copresence as Being With: Social Contact in Online Public Domains.” Information, Communication & Society, V. 11, No. 4 June 2008, pp 565-583.
  • Zimmerman, Eric. Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games, First Person. MIT Press: 2004, remediated at

Do you need a new coffee table?

This one ain’t exactly cheap, but it will definitely impress any visitor, from casual mobile-user to alpha-geek: Microsoft built the “Surface” Hardware, an innovative touchscreen (which actually isn’t a touchscreen but uses five cameras to track visual input) that allows for a unique user interface experience. But hardware is pretty boring with proper applications, and that’s what this video is all about:

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