Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thanks to Facebook, my mom now understands software development [The future is here]

At this point, it's as part of the vernacular as "boy meets girl:" Facebook makes changes, Everyone is confused by changes, Everyone rails (utilizing the new features they are complaining about - how meta!), Everyone threatens to breakup with Facebook, nobody does.

The recent changes are a pretty major shift. I guess.

I say "I guess" because to my mind, these changes are part of The Book that is Face being The Book that is Face.

And I say "to my mind" because I am fully aware that because of what makes me tick, I look at The Book that is Face through a different lens than most.  The iterative process of making things or figuring things out - organizations, websites, new recipes, a home - is like oxygen to me. Dive in, engage, try things, test them, assess, adjust, repeat - discussing it ad nauseum all the while. This is how I see Facebook. It's a living piece of software, plugged into 500 million people who are using it, contributing to it and informing it from all over the world, 24/7.

That is hot.

So I don't so much care about the specifics of the changes. That they are happening at this scale at, I consider awesome. I enjoy sharing and connecting with people at the level and reach that the Facebook platform allows, so I'll figure out how to incorporate the changes in whatever way I need to to continue to get out of the platform what I desire. Simple.

But the super duper bonus point I see in all this is the way it is changing The User Experience. And I use title case there because I'm talking about the way people use all stuff.  People who cannot set an alarm clock use Facebook. The pressure to see photos of their grandkids or monitor their teen's activities or to keep in touch with friends when heading off to college or a new city was too great, and people who couldn't tell you what a social network is (and could care less) have signed up for and regularly use this living breathing pile of code that is Facebook. And they are along for this ride. They have free (in terms of cash out of their pocket) access to some of the most robust and powerful software in existence. Yes, Google is also as free and as (maybe more) powerful, but (so far) Google does not give them a smoothly integrated and polished window into every shared aspect of their friends and families lives. They are able to set preferences and privacy settings, give feedback and curate their own feeds. And not everyone becomes a super user, but when these upgrades happen and the cut and paste status updates on how to change x,y or z or event invitations to "bring back the old Facebook" outlining the changes in detail start flying, they learn and notice whether they want to or not. And this becomes a collective knowledge, conscious or not, about what technology makes possible. How flexible it can be. How our preferences and feedback can be incorporated. How things that we make don't have to be set in stone.

And that knowledge, that evolution of The User Experience, raises the bar throughout the Matrix (yeah, I said it). Apple - with iTunes, the iPad and the iPhone - has a major part in this collective learning as well. We want our cars to be smarter, our devices to be more integrated - it starts to be the way we expect things to be.

Those of us who create and distribute content would do well to recognize this shift. We've always had to remind ourselves to remember the user, but now, more than ever, it's key. The user is being trained, en masse, that they can control their own experience. And not just in a "have it your way" sort of way, in a very tactical, very personal, very human sort of way. That? Cannot be ignored.

Because, really.

Note: After publishing this, it occurred to me that my mother knows COBOL, so clearly. But if we think of our collective moms, I think the title still works :).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hate groups and radical right - same thing? [Help a sister out, please]

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released a report that shows hate groups in the United States top 1,000 for the first time. This is a clear reminder that organized hate, among other things, is on the rise, but the thing that struck me was in the opening paragraph of the announcement of the report:

The number of active hate groups in the United States topped 1,000 for the first time and the antigovernment “Patriot” movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued explosive growth in 2010.
[Insert noise made by cute animated puppy that is suddenly confused]

I imagined posting a link to this report on this very jarring statistic, but the first thing I though of was how at least 5 people I know would never make it past that first paragraph and how quickly, the conversation would ignore the very important and jarring statistic and instead focus on the interchangeable use of the term "hate group" and the term "radical right."

I read the rest of the release, hoping that at some point they mentioned the research behind this automatic correlation, but to no avail.

Can someone break this down for me? Because, really...

NPR has a report on the findings without the sloppy conjecture.

Black History Month: Thumbs up or thumbs down? [Discussions that need to happen]

Today was going to be the day that I left my cellphone in my purse and logged out of Facebook. I have mounting involved and mentally challenging things to cross of my list and multi-tasking was not on the agenda. Just as I went to my Facebook tab to log out, the following ensues on my wall:

Before you continue, read the blog post she linked to on Jack and Jill Politics here. And make sure you actually go and listen to the referenced Bloggingheads video here.

February is almost over. I almost made it through without having this discussion head on. But as I read the blog post and then actually watched the video in full, it became clear that I was going to have to jump in. I've given myself 30 minutes (now 15) on this, but it's something about which I feel strongly, so here goes.

1. We have to be able to have conversations. I kind of wrote about this in my Beacon blog post yesterday, and even more explicitly earlier this month. We have got to stop shouting from the extreme boundaries of conversations and be willing to get uncomfortable in the gray areas because that is where progress happens. The Jack and Jill Politics post plays the shouting game, not only leaving out any sort of nuance when quoting sound bytes from the video, but by escalating this to be about the NYTimes having an agenda around Black History Month and indicating that the bloggers in the video (John McWhorter of the New Republic and Glenn Loury of Brown University) are sellouts (a whole other powder keg conversation) - "I don’t know where they found these brothers or what they paid them to say this," blog author Jill Tubman says. Unnecessary.

2. McWhorter and Loury speak the truth: People of all colors do roll their eyes at Black History Month. Black History Month does house a set of standard rituals and auto-pilot events that don't really raise, change or challenge the consciousness of the very people it exists to enlighten. They don't so much call for the end of Black History Month (though you can take sound bytes away from the video discussion that would support such a claim), but push us to think about whether or not it is the best way to achieve what those who fought for it wanted to achieve. They are of the opinion that it does not, however they are not dismissing the need to find some way, some new way more appropriate to our current society, to get the same ideas across. To fixate on the fact that they are "calling for the end of Black History Month" and not go on to discuss why, why not and the forces at play is to waste precious time and energy -

3. Because I do think Black History Month is no longer effective. (There! I said it!) I also concede that something is better than nothing. I also understand that different people are at different levels of understanding and that I run in an uncharacteristically open minded circle of people. So what do I suggest instead? I've always been of the opinion that limiting the focus on Black History to a month is by definition marginalizing it (while understanding that some feel that setting aside a month is a needed highlight). A concerted and on-going effort to highlight people of color, achievements and contributions, issues as they effect us today in our daily lives - that to me would be more challenging and have more impact. A good friend of mine and I always talked about re-branding February as a celebration of all races and ethnicities - "February Festival" we called it. Anyone who has seen my Facebook wall knows that it does not have to be February for me to stir the pot and encourage (some would say force :)) discussion on issues of race.

So, while I understand and agree with why Black History Month was created, I am of the opinion that it no longer addresses the issues it set out to tackle. The fact that there's now a month for everything and everyone, to me, only supports this opinion. We tune out, we roll our eyes, we go on auto-pilot.

In short (because now I'm approaching 45 minutes, though I only gave myself 30), everything is contextual. Even "black" history doesn't belong solely to black people. Showing it through a singular lens is to distort it, is to leave out part of the story. This is the history of us - all of us. Coming together and moving forward isn't possible - on any subject or belief - if all the energy goes toward separating things out.

And PS, I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, I'm asking you to talk about it. Because, really - that's what keeps the world going around.