Social Cyberspaces

This CNet interview with Marc Smith is essential reading for anyone interested in online communities. Marc is Microsoft's resident sociologist and his insights on slicing and dicing message threads into community indicators is fascinating reading.

Marc also gave a great presentation this past July during the Silicon Valley Speaker Series, also terrific reading. It contains a few more nuggets on his analysis of newsgroups, broad issues of trust and identity, and a preview of a new portal being created by Microsoft for release this fall.

Read those two links (interview and presentation) and learn the basic patterns and you will save you time reading your own inbox. Especially if you subscribe to listservs or frequent Usenet. Here's an excerpt:

When you go back to your mail or to your news browser or any message-based communication tool that you have on your desktop, ask yourself, "Can this tool sort my conversations by how big they got?"  And I'll bet you the answer is no.  Our products don't do it.  I don't know of anybody's products sort by thread size. 

And why is that?  Isn't the size of the conversation a salient property about that conversation, wouldn't you think?  Well, maybe in the next version of Outlook we'll get that in there, but we find that big threads were the controversial threads.  They got people really hot and bothered.  A lot of people participated, there were a lot of messages, a lot of heat, maybe not a lot of light.

If you wanted to know what's controversial in my newsgroup, this might be a good list.  If you said I'd like to avoid those controversies this is still a good list; you'll just stay away from them.

It seems obvious after you read it, but I only know a couple people who apply this sort of logic to their daily e-mail routine. Junk mail from people you know probably soaks up as much time as the kind you buy tools to kill.

Marc lives in Netscan, where the Tree Map is about the handiest drill-down visualization there is, and the Crosspost tool the coolest. At TechEd Dallas the download location for the Treemap libraries was announced, go check it out:

Tree Maps would be a great thing to point at listservs. The WebForms version doesn't (yet) provide the click-and-drill functionality they implemented in WinForms, what you see at the Usenet Tree Map link above is less than the tip of the iceberg.

While I'm at it, other interesting projects at Microsoft include:

Data Management, Exploration and Mining Group (DMX)

Social Computing Group

And another great visualization tool, designed for drawing and manipulating mind maps (a.k.a. “oganizing your thoughts“) is Freemind. This is a wonderful open-source project that only requires a recent Java engine. Go get it.

Thanks to Korby Parnell for blogging about Marc.

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