Privacy in the Time of Facebook – Interviews on CBC Radio and the Takeaway

Last week, I was contacted by two radio stations for interviews on Facebook and privacy. I’ve been studying Facebook heavily since it launched in February 2004. As a digital anthropologist, Facebook’s success and information architecture have been an intense obsession of mine.

In December 2009, I went to the Banff Centre in Canada to spend a month doing independent research. As I narrowed my focus of study, I found myself looking more closely at Facebook. Facebook has a sort of technosocial gravity not prevalent in other social applications. It is the of friendship, where micronarratives and recommendation systems allow one to read the lives of others as one might read a newspaper article or book.

Part of Facebook’s pull has to do with the instantaneity of  broadcasts and subsequent immediate feedback. Social rewards and often faster and more widespread in the digital world than in real life. Also, the rewards have a quantitative and lasting value. If you share something intimate, you can get multiple comments and multiple likes. You get immediate feedback. It feels good. And the more you reveal about yourself, the more you often get back. Eventually, you can feel a sense of community where you might otherwise feel you don’t. If you think about it, it’s like a cross between playing a videogame and being your own micro celebrity.

. They show up faster. There is more of an adrenaline rush. Every social interaction and success becomes quantifiable. One can get mega points (when their content goes viral) or micro points for micro updates. Analog interaction is less quantifiable and not as far reaching. THis is the same reason why one is addicted to Farmville-like games.

Why are we so okay with sharing everything?

Privacy. Do people really want it?


-Analog Sharing

One to one, or one to group.

Celebrity is one to many.

-Digital Sharing

One to many. Similar to celebrity. Owning the means of producing

systemic value.

The idea of using Brightkite to end a picture of a kid — which is “on my way home”

stays in default public.

there are no replacements. nothing as cool. but their models are default private.

connections breaking connections — accounts deleted.

there’s not    areaway good model right now for amknig stuff product.

their need to monetize this stuff eventually changes behavior.

All this stuff keeps showing up in public when one doesn’t mean it to.

privacy affects us on a person by person.

Data that never should’ve been there goes in there.

the default should be – don’t show this to the world.

sense of place. – read in college.

VCR shifting sense of time and place.

people need some sense of whether something is safe.

trust means – i can walk out of the house and have a sense that people wont steal my stuff…

or people eaving a social network and not having all of their secrets getting out.

I really miss the idea of friend being friend.

kids care about privacy in a  very granular way.

friendship is very granular.


Why is privacy hard? Granularity is complicated, security, & there is currently no model for making money on it. @hotdogsladies #webvisions

What kind of platform requires that your subscription is made public? not google reader, gmail, etc
january – zuckerberg interviewed by arrington – “if we were to create facebook new today, the current settings today would be how we built it now” (everything public by default) — see marshall’s post on “privacy is dead”
when people feel secure knowing how far their informatino will spread, they feel more comfortable sharing more informtaion
realtiy tv, twitter, myspace, letters to the editor of papers left in comments in news websites — general trend towards everything being public
less privacy -> more pageviews
one of the top results in google suggest for “how do i” is “delete my facebook account”
deleting your account is not easy to do
the most viable long-term solution is for social networking to be a protocol not a site. server-to-server communications. it’s inevitable. the alternative is to let the few big companies make the decisions.
Faceook –
By defintion about observing others and comparing and contrasting
based on Harvard
the bulk it’s history was — narcissistic.
by default all of your stuff was there for friends
a number of friends was turned by default to public
people had never changedtheir privacy settings before…
some of it irretrievably public by defa

the thing that pissed me off the most during that period

which of the setting bothered them the most
was the most that the fact that back then you brace a fan of paceges and that was the facebook version of subscribing by RSS
originally — that was something you could ckeep private — that makes snese to me –
as of december one of the changes was that it couldn’t bbe public — even if you were not logged in
could still see people’s fan pages
example i often gave was
“i’m secretly gay tanned no one at the office kows it”
a friend not in the tech sphere — told me — a fan of a podcast
heterosexual couples stuggling to concveive
but didn’t want the world at lease to see that podcast
but it was public from tha point on
iretrivably.fb is incredible in that its popularized the syndication of public content
what kind of subscription would require that your material was put public
another object was that your friends were irrevocably public as well.
day after that “don’t expose this on my profile”
but it was still avaialbe programmatically – -through the api.
the fact tha they enabled it — especially one day after the event
at least human invisible and not programmatically invisible.
Jan – mark zukerberg did an interview with micheal arrington
if we were to create facebook again today we’d have the same privacy settings as we do today. current settings today is code word for
zuckerberg says the age of privacy is dead. people join facebook to be public and not private
but for years — but facebook’s contribution
when people feel secure in where their data will go, they will be more willing to share information
then they feel comfortable sharing more information in total.
head of public comma at fb — public rationale for that — their evidence of the fact that the world was changing in th

at way as that the fact that reality tv shows were popular, and twitter was by nature public, and also letters to the editor about
why fb changed its privacy policy.
the more people share, the more pages will be read, and the more ads can be served.
less privacy means more pageviews –
helpful to spell out.
well demonstrated by the most recent
2 major things ppl objected to:
1. privileged partners — the fact that exposing your data
when you visit those sites, they look at your facebook cookie – and FB just gives them the data
pandora (microsoft)
2. a much larger nu

a number of websites can be accessed via API level technology.
Facebook will give you an frame – that showed you
visit read white web so it would say – we can see who your friends are – view the articles on rrw –
facebook would serve it up through an frame — and you would click on features that other people have liked on RRW.
the opt out feature is a radical change — vs. opt in (w/facebook connect)
vs. facebook connect — you just “like” things. and that’s exposure of user data.
now, ect is OPT OUT> this is dramatic — UI shift.
people are freaking out about all that. who are some of the people who have quit fb
peter rojas
matt cutts (!!)
leo laporte
they’ve quit bc of privacy concerns
“how do it” google
delete my fb account
diaspora — NYU kids through kickstarter approaching 160,000
super geeky about it.

RRW wrote about them first. i don’t think they have any product at all
lots of other people are building decentralized open social networks.

he most viable
not for social networking
where it lives on your server of the server of trusted providers — all of our social networks are interoperable
how verizon customers can call att cusomers- and take our contacts from one network to another when we leave.
kind of inevitable that that will happen.
leave us subject to their policy changes – -putting everyday people at risk and unhappy. it’s a legit desire of ppl to want to communicate online with trusted friends and no one else.
everyone from marginalized populations to prevent from being exposed to everyone else. that’s a very legitimate need.
howfully social networking as a protocol will return control to users of this really revolutary technology back to the whole world.
now social networking has opened up social publishing to the world. a world changing kind of technology that people should be able to trust. because

Facebook executives are preparing for a ‘privacy summit’ to discuss the site’s controversial new default privacy settings (which do little to protect users’ privacy). But in a world of over-sharing online, does privacy even matter anymore? And have our notions of public and private changed so dramatically that we couldn’t reverse things if we wanted to?

Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at the City University of New York and author of “What Would Google Do?” He walks us through the history of privacy, and how technology has changed our definitions of what it is over the years.

And Amber Case is a cyborg-anthropologist and tech consultant. She explains how social networking sites have redefined privacy, identity, a

nd the way we interact with others.

Guests: Amber Case and Jeff Jarvis
Produced by: Kristen Meinzer and Jen Poyant


Spark 114 – May 23 & 25, 2010

On this episode of Spark: Facebook privacy, video game localization, and universal translators. Click below to listen to the whole show, or

Recently, the popular social networking website Facebook changed its privacy policy. That has some people worried that once private information may now be public. Others ask, “What’s the big deal?” This week, Spark looks at Facebook and privacy from several perspectives.

First, Nora talked to Philip Moscovitch and Andrew Jones from the Spark community for their views on Facebook and privacy. (Runs 7:50)

Next, Nora interviewed David Wasieleski about this business ethics of social networking sites like Facebook. (Runs 7:01)

Finally, cyborg anthropologist Amber Case explains why Facebook is “sticky” and how its design decisions encourage participation. (Runs 8:10)

The second self. One must manage both the offline self and the online self. The outer appearance and security of the analog self must be updated an maintained. Clothing and skillets, house and vitamins. One cannot look out of date. The digital self must also maintain the extension of self. Sensors must be developed, even mentally, to ascertain where the boundaries of the digital body begin and end.

Security in real life

Security of the second self.

Thanks to everyone at CBC Radio, especially Carma Jolly, for making this an enjoyable experience!

Webvisions 2010 is Here! Free Parties, Events, and How to Get the Most Out of It

It’s that time again! Webvisions (@WV2010) is back in Portland, and it’s in it’s tenth year!Don’t know what Webvisions is? You should. It’s an amazing and affordable conference that draws immense talent from all over the United States and beyond. It’s one of Portland’s best conferences, and it’s happening this week from May 19-21, 2010 at the Oregon Convention Center. It is also a nationally-recognized conference that explores the future of Web design, technology, user experience, business strategy and the future of the web.

Webvisions Portland 2010Webvisions Promo Codes!

I have 5 promo codes to give away. The first five people to comment below get one!

Conference and Workshop Discount

With this code you can get a rate of $225 for a conference pass, $375 for one workshop or $525 for two workshops. Comment or @ reply on Twitter to get one!

Special Deal on Kris Krug’s Photography Workshop

Kris Krug is one of the world’s top photographers. He’s extremely well-known on Flickr, and has taken many of the avatar images of people in the tech community (including mine). His skills are legendary and his photographic advice is worth For a limited time, you can get a pass to both Kris Krug’s workshop and a Webvisions conference pass for only $350. Sound good? Comment below to get it!

Don’t Miss Out on These Great Webvisions Parties and Events (and they’re free)!

WebVisions is all about learning, networking and exploring the future – but it’s also the place for fun. Best of all, many of the after hours activities are free. Don’t have time for Webvisions during the day? Don’t worry. There are plenty of afternoon and evening activities to attend.

WebVisions 10th Anniversary Party

Wed., May 19th, 6:30 – 10:00pm
It’s the 10th anniversary for WebVisions and we’re throwing a party to celebrate. Co-hosted by the fine folks of ReadWriteWeb and Network Solutions, there’ll be free drinks, cake and maybe even some give-aways. It will be packed, so arrive early as space is limited. For extra fun, bike to the party with the MobileSocial crew – they’re meeting at the Oregon Convention Center at 6:00pm and riding up to the Lucky Lab. » RSVP today.
++ Location: Lucky Lab NW – 1945 NW Quimby, Portland.

Webvisionary Awards Show and Presentation Karaoke

Thurs., May 20th, 6:00 – 9:00pm
Each year, in conjunction with the WebVisions conference, the Webvisionary Awards honors the most visionary, daring, and curious talent on the web by awarding them with a miniature robot. The award show is different in every way, other than the winners receiving an award part – we have top talent for judges, a comedian for a host, a killer DJ to supply the beat, and Presentation Karaoke to kick it off. Sponsored by VTechWebTrends52 Ltd and WebVisions. » RSVP today.
++ Location: Someday Lounge – 125 NW 5th Ave., Portland.

WebVisions Wrap Party

Fri., May 21st, 6:30pm – late
While we lament the demise of the Greek Cusina, we’re starting a new tradition. Nel Centro is one of Portland’s hippest restaurants and they have a great outdoor patio with fire pits and cool lighting. DJ Doc Adam will be spinning and they’ll be serving our special WebVisions Cocktail at their happy hour price of $5 each. DJ Doc Adam is sponsored by VTech» RSVP today
++ Location: Nel Centro – 1408 SW 6th Ave., Portland.


Still Need to Register For Webvisions?

Online Registration is Open Until May 14th

Three days, over fifty speakers. All for a fraction of the cost of other web conferences. What’s not to love? » Register today (and don’t forget to comment below for a discount!).


Conference Packages

Package A: two-day conference pass for all sessions, panels and keynotes; Package B: conference pass plus one half-day workshop; Package C: conference pass plus two half-day workshops; Package D: conference pass plus one full-day workshop.

Special Deal

WebVisions is excited to offer another special 2-for-1 deal to the Northwest’s top Web conferences. For only $400, you’ll get two-day conference passes to both WebVisions and Open Source Bridge, a conference dedicated to open source technologies and for people interested in learning the open source way. Save over $175 if purchased separately!

Open Source Bridge takes place from June 1-4 at the Portland Art Museum.

Register at

Association Partners

AIGA | Portland,   AIGA | San Francisco,   AIGA | Seattle,   AIGA | Chicago,   AIGA | New York,   American Marketing Assn | Oregon,   Art Institute of Portland,   CHIFOO,   DevGroup NW,   IXda,   OMPA,   Internet Strategy Forum,   Portland Web Innovators,   SEMpdx,   World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Media Partners

Silicon Florist



Amber Case, (@caseorganic) is a Cyborg Anthropologist studying the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way we think, act, and understand the world around us. She’s obsessed with compressing the space and time it takes to get data from one place to another, especially when the final destination is the mind.

Cyborg Anthropology at BoCo – A Fusion of Tech, Music and Food in Boulder, Colorado


Today I was excited to speak at BoCo, a great new conference developed by the Boulder Tech Community, especially Andrew Hyde. Rick Turoczy was there, among other awesome Portlanders, San Fransiscans, and Boulderites. It  was a sunny day and there were beautiful mountains all around. The morning sessions dealt with food and music and were very wonderful to listen to.


I spoke about Cyborg Anthropology, which is the study of human computer interactions and how technology affects the way in which we communicate with one another.

We Are All Cyborgs

When you read this, you are acting as a low-tech cyborg, because you are using a computer to view text that I have written. My writing is stored here in my website, part of my actor network of external technological devices that, when taken together, comprise my technosocial self. As cavemen, we began skipping evolution by crafting spears instead of growing teeth. We began making hammers as extensions of our fists.


My social self is part technology and part human. My technological self does a lot of networking for me through my social networking profiles and my Google search results. So do yours (if you have them). My technosocial avatar of a self networks for me when I’m not there.

Distributed Social Selves

Each piece of my distributed social identity leaves a geological trail of past self that my present self can interact with. These all comprise my future self, which your future self or selves will most undoubtedly interact with. The online optimization of self, when coupled with the analog optimization of self (i.e. real-life networking, person to person) is the creation of a stable identity that is uniformly distributed and presented all over the web.

Technology Resembles Magic

Technology is almost magical. Like the scrying pool of the past (or of fantasy novels), the iPhone or computer monitor allows us to view anything anywhere in the world through YouTube and Twitter, News sites and Facebook. We can summon up an image with a simple spell (a simple text entry into Google search or Twitter search) and we can extend our speech and ears across very large distances in seconds with the mere touch of a button.

Technology Gives Us Superpowers

Technology, when used well, gives us amazing superpowers. We are like gods, until we forget to charge our batteries. We are like gods, until we forget to upgrade our devices to the most recent operating system or device number. Our external prosthetic devices turn against us when they get old. Our old clothes go out of style. Our brick phones make us get laughed at in the streets.

From Physical Transportation to Mental Transportation

In the same way that cars transport our physical bodies, computers and cell phones transport our spiritual bodies. Don’t like the word spiritual? Use the word mind instead. We’re increasingly entering into a world of mental machines – mental transportation devices. These devices transmit our thoughts invisibly to others. They are taking up smaller amounts of space, until vehicles, who require increasingly large highways.

Mental Traffic Jams

We have traffic jams, too. Mental traffic jams. Jams on Twitter. Twitter fails. Rush hour around important events and deaths and wars and crises. We can now have multiple views of the same event.

Telephonic Schizophrenia

When telephone technology first came out, people felt it was crazy. The idea of going into a room and speaking into a machine sounded schizophrenic.



There is more: enough to fill up a hour and a half speech, but I’ll leave that to you to see the next time I speak. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter @caseorganic, or you can check out BoCo.

Visualizing the Internet Strategy Forum Summit 2009

For the second year in a row, I live Tweeted and Visualized the Internet Strategy Forum Summit at the Governor Hotel in Portland, OR.

jeremiah-owyang-tweetstreamMy goal was to track Twitter volume, speaker quotes, and general buzz around the event of every attending Twitterer in the audience. I had to formalize the data and take samples during many parts of the day to get a solid visual.

Instead of digging through pages of Twitter data with the search term #ISF09, the method here allows the audience as well as speakers to see how their speech ranked in comparison others at the conference. This way, one can see exactly the topics that hit the audience the hardest.

I used a Java Applet called StreamGraphs to visually track the Internet Strategy Forum Summit. The app was built by Jeff Clark. You can follow him @JeffClark on Twitter.

Standardizing the Data

StreamGraphs has some limitations. It only shows the last 1,000 tweets and thus it must be queried in real-time, during an event, to get usable results. The first thing to do was to standardize the hashtag. Some Twitter users were Tweeting with @summit, #isfsummit09, or #isf09. For the best data to be presented, users had to Tweet using one hashtag. I did a Twitter search for everyone following @summit OR #isfsummit09 OR #isf09 OR the Governor Hotel and began following them. Then I @’d them, welcoming them to the Internet Strategy Forum Summit and added an #isf09 hashtag to the end of each Tweet. I watched for people questioning as to which hashtag to use and informed them that #isf09 was shorter and better.

By 10:47, I had regular data and was able to begin tracking the Internet Strategy Forum Summit. Katherine Durham’s Tweets were not able to be recorded into the graph, but Shelia Tolle and the speakers after her were picked up. This was due to a limitation of the StreamGraph Java Applet (StreamGraph only shows the last 1,000 Tweets). So alas, we missed Durham’s excellent words: “Flat is the new up“.

And the second sample was taken from 10:08 to 2:37. The second sample did a better job at gathering the overall sentiment and buzz of the conference. It is evident from the image that Jeremiah Owyang was the speaker that captured the audience’s attention the most.


What Was Shown:

The interesting part about visualizing data in this way is that it shows that there is an inherent difference between what a speaker says and what they audience values. The conversations bursts worked just like sine waves as audience began to engage with the material of each new speaker. As memorable quotes were released into the audience, a lot of tweeting and retweeting coverage occured, melding some of the terms into like-groups. The graph shows that people tweeted about the speaker during the middle of the speech as opposed to at the beginning or end of the speech.

The First Burst: Shelia Tolle

Vice President of Marketing, Intuit Small Business Group. TOPIC: Combining eCommerce and Community: It’s a New Normal…and, There’s
No Going Back

The three words most associated with Shelia’s speech were online, Twitter, and Social.


BenZee: Fastest growing group on Twitter and facebook is people over 40.

CommunityMGR: Fastest growing group on Social Networks (ie: Facebook) are over the age of 45! Social Equillibrium from young to older. #ISF09

CommunityMGR: Channels like Twitter allow companies to help customers WHERE THEY ARE. Personalize with indiv photos, NOT logos as avatars. #Intuit #ISF09

TMMPDX: Intuit helping customers where they are – Twitter. @intuit draws the ire from professional haters online – Sheila Tolle. #isf09 #isfsummit09

cyndibrigham: Help customers where they are. This is the work I focus on through online syndication. Go to where the people shop and research #isf09

tmmBosley: turn bullhorn around, be part of the community, live your higher purpose, create amazing, embrace chaos! #isf09 Sheila Tolle

The Second Burst: Lisa Welchman

Here we can see the major takeaways from @lwelchman‘s speech on change.

Top tweets: “orgs need to handle change internally. All communications need to change, and people don’t want to grasp impact, says @tom_bennett and @tmmBosley.


@smdempsey: @CommunityMGR Game has changed, but the internet was just the impetus. Time to rethink the model; biz as usual is not sustainable.

@blocheads: Effecting change is hard. I’ve asked clients to agree to a “We promise to do whatever you say clause, but no takers yet.
@tmmBosley: What to do? Systematic change: Figure out guiding principles in your organization (like Intel has done right @bryanrhoads?

Key Point: Chief Content Officer

At 11:11, @lwelchman brought up the idea of the Chief Content Officer, or the Chief Web Officer.

rahelab: Time has come for a Chief Content Office, Chief Web Officer, ect as these areas have become critical to web ops.
close2open: “Why can’t there be a Chief Content officer?
tmmSabrina: Lisa from @welchman Start a management REVOLUTION! Chief Content Officer, Chief Web Officer, ect. Amen Sister!

But I was told later that it was not about hiring a Chief Content Officer, but about becoming one.

Retweets of this comment appeared again at 11:49.

10:40: We all have a ‘wierd background’ – I’m a philosophy major w/Phorics minor and did did vocal opera. what does that make me? a Web person.

Caseorganic: RT @jeffreybunch: @lwelchman inspiring the oppressed web masses at #isf09!

imeldak: The CIO should be responsible for driving content, web and technology revolutions in the C Suite

@lwelchman was an excellent speaker.

The Third Burst: Jeremiah Owyang

The audience took away major points from Jeremiah Owyang’s speech, including ideas related to the web, context, users, eras and years, pages, and community. The social theme resonated most with the audience, as well as being a major theme of the conference.

The idea of eras was a new and interesting take on the standard ideas of business the and social web. One of the main takeaways concerned the fact that a company could actually have a 5 year media plan instead of a year to year thing. He outlined the social eras to come so that businesses might plan instead of being left behind.



CommunityMGR: 5 eras of social web: Relationships, Functionality, Colonization, Context & Commerce.


Webtom_bennett: Allow users to surf the web within your experience (put your wrapper on it).

msdouglass: Social web colonization is coming to your business. Will you be France? Belgium? Ivory Coast? USA? Offline lessons abound.


jdenizac: People will surf in social contexts, even if your site is not social. eg, digg bar.

tom_bennett: Social Context – contextualized experience based on universal IDs is coming.


agray: Registration pages are going away – the way you collect leads online with change.
@thisKat: @agray More details! Live Tweet this! So many marketers are slaves to the registration page.
NathanJWagner: Registration pages will change…lead gen and CRM reporting will change…SM sites will get more traffic than corp sites.
Caseorganic: Registration Pages Going Away. May be able to measure by # of fans, engagement you have instead of signups.


Tom_bennett: Agencies will appear that represent communities, not brands.
tom_bennett: Functionality – shatter your corporate website and let it spread within the community.
CommunityMGR: Social Networks will become next generation CRM Systems. Ad agencies may flip to representing the Community.


caseorganic: Social networks becoming operating systems – can put apps on top like Scrabulous and interact with users where they are.
Rahelab: Social functionality: more like operating systems. Apps on top of platforms-Facebook, LinkedIn apps. “Go where users are.” Not mature yet.
BenZee: On the web: technologies evolve, users adopt then companies adapt.


Johan’s speech about Intel Corp’s Keynote spurred a lot of Tweets about Intel, and thus the Intel name is associated with it. Most of the Tweeting was done towards the first of part of Johan’s speech, as well as the discusion of a very nice Intel ad about the co-founder of the USB. Towards the end of the speech, and the subsequent panel, the electronics in the room ran out of batteries, making it impossible to cover the event via Twitter. I was told that iPhones and Blackberries were also running out of power. Although some battery life may have been restored during lunch, the life quickly ran out. I saw many audience members turn towards pen and paper to take notes for the rest of the conference.


There are many graphs like this available online. Most are made by students at colleges, and a lot have to do with graphically displaying content volumes. I found this analytics visualizer to be exceptionally powerful because of its ability to track word volume over time.

The applications for this type of visual presentation of information are vast. During the ISF after party, I determined that these graphs would be an invaluable tool for examining PR statistics over time. If I sat down and pulled apart the code with someone, it would be fun to develop this graphing system into an extremely granular tool for online reputation management.

Data Dimensions:

My research depends on attending conferences because my current focus is on visualizing data with 4 main dimensions.

1. Time
2. Volume
3. Keyword
4. Event/Person

In this way, data becomes more like an audio file, and even closely resembles it. It is a friendlier way of viewing trends, and is more accurate (because of the added dimension of volume) than

Tool Limitations:

Currently, the tool I am using is Java based. It does not yet allow the user to set periods of time, and does not have the server capabilities to store server data. It is a brilliant data analytics tool, and if it were to allow a greater amount of granularity (in terms of keywords), as well as time range, it would prove to be an invaluable tool for tracking Public Relations. Currently, it is possible to do this, it just takes a longer amount of time to do so.

I approached Jeff Clark, the tool’s developer, about collaborating with him to create a more robust version that would incorporate a larger time frame, clickable data formats (I have a paper prototype of all of this), and a zoom feature. He declined, so the tool will stay where it is. If he releases a new version, I will be the first to use it.

There are so many great potentialities with a tool like this, because being able to visualize data over time with an extra dimension of volume is really exciting. Please let me know if you’d like to work on an open source version of it with me.

Now What?

Systems are optimal when the amount of time and space it takes to get pieces of relevant data from one person to another continues to decrease. Those designs/processes that exemplify this paradigm will be successful in the future economy. Systems like these that track the most important data points will be an important part of your complete data breakfast.


Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist, internet marketer, and speaker from Portland, Oregon. You can contact her at caseorganic at, or on Twitter at @caseorganic.

Many thanks to Steve Gehlen for running the Internet Strategy Forum Summit and inviting me back to the conference to visualize the data streams.

Cathy Marshall, Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley – Reading and Collaboration in a Digital Age

cathy-marshall-chifoo-microsoftOn July 8th, the Computer-Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) hosted Cathy Marshall of Microsoft Research at Jive Software (CHIFOO’s new location). Marshall’s presentation, titled Reading and Collaboration in a Digital Age: or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Screen, was a mental tour de force that reexamined assumptions of how we read, annotate, and look at text.

Approximately 60 people were in attendance, and the audience and speaker discussion was lively and relevant. There was never a dull moment or boring segment. I sat there furiously trying to capture every piece, as you will see evidenced below.

A Short History of eBooks

Marshall: I know lots of you are thinking, “what does reading have to do with collaboration?”.

eBooks have really been around for a long time, since around the 1980’s. The first generation was really about hypermedia and multimedia. Kind of the excitement of having these things on the screen, to be able to do things that you couldn’t do before. Peruses was a site about ancient Greece — the reason people loved it was that you were able to look up words in Greek and have them available immediately.

Generation 2 had P-books, or portable books. This turned out to be a bad name. There were multiple jokes about it. There was even a Zippy comic that made fun of it.

The comic shows Zippy and his friend flying through the city on the back of a book. Zippy’s friend says, “I head that the E-book trend never really took off, sales of the things are tanking.” and zippy says, E-books will never replace P-Book!”.

There’s some more text discussing the comparative values of books over electronic media, and the cartoon ends with Zippy saying, “E-books are spineless”.

Marshall: I think there’s a real sort of cultural anxiety about the end of books, and the death of text. And there was also skepticism about reading on computers, Like Sven Birkerts, Richard Harper, who wrote about how paperless offices didn’t work. There were also people in library science who said that these things wouldn’t work out well eighteen.

Marshall brings out a slide of an old cell phone displaying a partial sentence from Moby Dick on its tiny, pixilated screen.

Marshall: For many people, their worst fear was of having to read something on a cell phone while being trapped in the airport.

But there is no reason to laugh about this anymore because people in Japan are actually reading and writing novels on cell phones.

In Family Circus…by the way….does anyone think Family Circus is funny? I think they must have some hidden message or something , and that’s why people keep publishing them.

Audience: I have some friends who carefully cut out Family Circus every day…and then replace the captions with something else. Then they’re funny.

A Family Circus comic shows up on the screen. The kid is talking to his mother. “I’m never going to start reading eBooks,” he says, “it’s too hard to curl up with a monitor”.

And one last point was from Clifford Lynch in the battle to define the future of the book in the digital world. He said, “Try to think of eBooks as personal libraries instead of books” First Monday, 2001. “>First Monday 2001.

Generation 3 – 2006-2008

By the time Generation 3 happened, the generations were getting closer and closer together (as they say in future shock).

In this generation, we asked ourselves, will eBooks somehow renew the social side of reading?

Why was it so hard to see what’s coming?

Reason 1: Changes aren’t always in technology.

There was a very famous article written by Vannevar Bush about a system he called a Memex (portmanteau of “memory extender”). It’s heralded as the introduction to the hyperlink, that you could go from one place to another and record that hyperlink.

“The advanced arithmetic machines of the future…will have enormous appetites. One of them will take instructions form a whole roomful of girls armed with simple keyboard punches and will deliver sheets of complicated results every few minutes”. – Vannevar Bush in As We May Think, 1945.

I took typing class too, on those big clunky computers. And there were no boys in the class. You weren’t a boy in my class unless you were in drag.

An audience member nods.  “Were you in drag?” Marshall asks.

“Depends,” he responds, “what year was that again?”

Why is it hard to answer this question?

Answer: Because it is often difficult to see the whole cost/benefit analysis side of the picture, like this panel I cut out from the back of a box of Shredded Wheat that says,

“Dear NABISCO Shredded Wheat Users”.

Reason 3: Reading is Invisible

“Nothing is more commonplace than the reading experience, and yet nothing is more unknown. Reading is such a matter so common that at first glance, it seems there is nothing to say about it. ”
Tzvetan Todorov, quoted by Nicholas Howe in The Ethnography of Reading.

Marshall: I’m kind of a feral Ethnographer. Sarah has worked with me and knows that I like to have principles.

I was sitting there on the airplane and I was sitting there watching this man read his magazine. There he was, reading this magazine. I thought I was so discreet. And at some point he got up and went to the restroom.

And he looked over at me and said, “you stole my magazine”. and I said, “I did not!” and he said, “Let me look in your briefcase”. And so reading is invisible. And it’s very dangerous to watch people read. And people think it’s creepy!

But in this talk I’m trying to summarize 15 years of studies on cooperation, and reading tech, to really find out what reading is. So you’ll have to bear with me as I tease out a definition.

I starting looking at intelligence analysts – how people gathered and collected things, and then how people annotated things, and found that they aren’t quite the scholarly things people see in the margins, and then looked at it in law offices and law school. Those also who came in and talked to the Vice President and President and briefed them every morning. And I actually got to be there when President Bush got the Osama bin Laden briefing.

I went to work at Microsoft and looked a Microsoft reader, and then I looked at shared annotations, and then how people clipped things out of magazines and how they read. So we looked at reading in some detail. Then I worked with some people t Microsoft at the New York Times Reader application. Does anyone have one of those?

One audience member raised his hand.

Well then, it was a tremendous success! The photos in it are really nice. You don’t really notice how nice the photos are in the Times until you view them in that reader.

Then she showed a photos of a guy sitting on the subway reading a newspaper seated next to a guy who was sitting there with a tremendous cathode ray tube monitor and keyboard on his lap, the computer unit on the ground underneath his feet. It was making fun of Reading, of course.

How Do Most People Think About Reading?

We think it’s private, individual, stationary and passive. We think it’s something as immersive, and sometimes soggy (she shows a picture of a guy reading a newspaper in the bathtub).

But what we found instead was that reading is mobile. That’s why reading on a screen was so dismal at first, because nobody wanted want to carry around a screen with them everywhere. Because reading was so mobile. What we found at first was that mobility overwhelmed many things at first.

“If I’m going home to Colorado, I have to be really sure I’m going to read something if I’m going to bring it. Otherwise, why should I bring it [if it’s large, heavy]. [The Pocket PC] is small, it’s handy.”. Quote from a college student talking about a Pocket PC with his course texts.

Marshall: Note that he actually didn’t end up reading his coursework on over the break.

So reading is mobile, material, passive.

In The Places of Books in the Age of Electronic Reproduction, Geoffrey Nunberg of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and Stanford University said this about eBooks:

“Reading what people have had to say about the future of knowledge in an electronic world, you sometimes have the picture of somebody holding all the books in the library by their spines and shaking them until the sentences fall out loose in space” (Representations 24, Spring, 1993). Also in Howard Bloch and Carla Hesse, eds., Future Libraries, University of California Press, 1994.

“You get this little screen, so you get no sense of even how long the work is…but you have 600 pages, which means what? No one knows. So I definitely don’t see it as a literary experience”. An English Lit Grad student talking about reading on the Jordana Pocket PC.

(Note from Amber Case: This is what I continually think about when I encounter a computer, because no matter how much data I stuff into it, it never gets heavier. A book weighs the same as a leaflet – nothing).

Marshall: Navigation is fundamental to the material of paper.

“Something else that I think I sometimes do when reading an article: I’ll be like, ‘boy this has been going on a long time, and sometimes I’ll even flip ahead and think, how many more pages do I have? And if it’s going to end on this page, then I may just read it. But if I see it’s three more pages, the…I may just either give up. Or just go into scan mode, where I just flip, you know, see what grabs my attention”

Marshall: Reading has a basic physicality.

(Note from Amber Case: Here, the materiality allows scanning, weight, and thickness).

“I usually read in one of the chairs in the living room. That’s partly because I don’t have a desk in here. The chairs are very comfortable. There’s a occasionally much too comfortable, that’s why I have blankets around every chair in the house, so I can always be prepared to go to sleep.” – An English Lit major talking about where she reads.

Then Marshall shows a quote from the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.

“I can’t read this without a French accent,” she says, “else I can’t get away with it. Does anyone have a French accent?”.

No one in the a audience had one.

“The compact disc,” says Baudrilliard, “It doesn’t wear out, even if you use it. Terrifying. It’s as through you’d never used it. So it’s as through you iddn’t exist. IF things dont’ get old anymore, then that’s because it’s you who are dead”. Jean Baudrilliard, Cool Memories II.

Marshall: Maybe you don’t want the pristine copy – you want the one that is like the one you first bought in the 70’s. The one that is used. The one that is well read.

You think about how interact with books online – you don’t have to think about that with a paper book. You don’t have to think about how to annotate.

Audience: The medium of the book is to have it be as transparent as possible. But when you have these different mediums that have types of media placed, you can’t read them anymore. You’re inhibited by the medium. You notice it.

We’ll get back to that later – I have a big rant about that too.

People interact with text far more than they own up to. People don’t remember making the annotations, they idealize them, they make far more than they actually remember. And when you show someone their annotations from a few days back, they don’t know what many of the annotations were referring to.

Audience Member: Have you ever heard of the book as a sacred object? Because I’m a librarian and I can’t annotate a book. I buy one copy for me and another to annotate.

Marshall: And what about the Ebook? Do you value the Ebook?

Audience Member: There’s nothing sacred about an Ebook because it doesn’t have a material embodiment. And I know I’m not going to pass it along to anyone else.

Marshall: Not unless you violate the DRM you won’t!

Audience Member: Is that sacredness of the book genetic, do you think?

Audience Member: Well I don’t know.

Librarian: Well, I was one of those, “Matchbox car collectors, a ‘never open the package’ kind of person.

Audience: What about the notes taken by college students?

Marshall shows the image of a page that’s been completely highlighted.

Like this? Or some people carefully save all of their college notes and them look at them later, or think they will look at them later. Or value them highly, but never look at them.

Literally, though, this highlighting goes on for pages. If you find that at the beginning of a math book, it means that the person’s going to drop the class.

Audience: I could never buy a book that was already annotated, because I’d go through the book and be like, “that’s not worthy of being annotated! or that section is not important enough to be highlighted!”.

Audience: Can you tell me the context of this study? How it was formed? Where you got the information?

Marshall: I’m smushing together many years of research here, but I can tell you about a few experiments.

For instance, for the highlighting, annotation one, I staged myself in the Stanford bookstore and pretended that I worked there, and I stayed there 2-3 weeks, looking through 1000’s of textbooks, watching people buy used and new textbooks, eavesdropping on whether or not they would buy what kind of book, and interviewed them about f they would by

And a lot of them would look through books to see what had been outlined before they decided on purchasing them.

This was a study I did a dozen or so years ago. It was one of the first studies I did, and it was just to get an idea of what people did when they purchased textbooks.

Audience: Did you ever find out the answer, “why did you highlight this entire text? Like why so much?

Marshall: Well, I think it happens in instances where there’s really complex information placed in front of someone who doesn’t understand it. The highlighting becomes more of a tracing of general attention. Sometimes it is from multiple readings.

In Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book, there’s a whole section on active learning. Sometimes I see those results. One time I saw a book with multiple different colors and I found a student who said, “Oh, I do that!”. I asked why, and she said, “Oh, I just change colors when I get bored”. Evidence of why it is important to ask.

Annotations May Quickly Lose Their Value or Be Forgotten

“Some of them are absolutely ridiculous and I can’t believe that I actually wrote this in pen in the book. Some of them are – I have no idea what I’m talking about. Some of them are really interesting, and it’s something I’ve forgotten. It just depends on the notes….when I did Milton, we were doing the epithets about Satan or something, so I underlined all of them. And when I was going back through it, I’m like “what on Earth!?” A grad student talks about annotations she made as an undergrad.

Marshall: The reason I found out about the subconscious stuff is that I’d go back with them through their notes a week after they’d done it and ask them about it, the notes, the diagrams, and some of them would say, “I’m sure it had some meaning at the time”. So annotations have more meaning than we think.

Reading is Interrupted and Variable

I think this is at the root of “what is reading”. It’s not this image of a little girl in the window seat and she’s totally engrossed in a book, uninterrupted.

“We do not read everything with the same intensity of reading; a rhythm is established, casual, unconcerned with the integrity of the text; our very avidity for knowledge impels us to skim or to skip certain passages (anticipated as ‘boring’) in order to get more quickly to the warmer parts of the anecdote…” – Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text.

Marshall: Reading is not a single, undistracted stream of concentration. Has anyone read all the words of Proust, or War and Peace?

Audience member: Yes. But it was not normal circumstances.

Marshall: Right, most of the time, reading is fragmented.

Turning a Page as a Complex of Lightweight Navigational Acts

A series of actions: Constance is reading the first page of a review, but halfway through the article she turns the page halfway over, so she can see the next article while still reading the first one.

She looks at the cartoon before she goes to the next page because she thinks it’s funny.

She goes through the next page, which looks like a lengthy review, looks at the ads, because the likes to look at the ads.

She successfully flips over the magazine so that she can read the next article.

She changes the orientation of her hands so that she can comfortably read again.

I have so many videos of people moving their hands to their face or moving them when they’re

I’m going to claim that reading is social. Not that it is intensely individual, as many people may think.

“It is also worth noting that solitary reading always was, and still is, inherently social: how we read is ultimately determined by social convention and community membership”. -David Levy, Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age

Marshall: Now I’m going to bring up our old friend, the CSCW matrix.


When, Where, same time, different time, Same place, different place. It’s been around so long that I couldn’t figure out how to source it.

Audience: Stands for Computer Supported Cooperative Work.

In the upper left: reading together, same time, same place.

We were watching students read on the web and we seated each one in front of a computer. We just told them to ‘go and browse the web’. And very quickly they had organized themselves in twos or threes around the computers instead of individually exploring the web alone.

And then we did studies with an early Web TV, and I thought, “ ‘ho hum!’ big deal, the Web on your TV!”

But then I watched as one kid was messing around with the Web TV, and another kid joined him. Before long, they were negotiating about where to go next on the web.

And then there were situations designed to read socially, like reading groups.

One of the things I noticed is how people stayed together while reading together. One of the problems with some books is that people go to the used bookstore and buy different editions, and people all have to align in class on the same class. They’re all different ways people use to get to the same page. Chapters, indexes, page numbers, ect. What we noticed is that people can be productively engaged in the discussion but not actually on the same page. This sort of things people would get punished for.

Audience: Was it established why it was important to be on the same page? Reading together: on-the-spot research enhancing discussion or digression?

Marshall: Well, we did some studies where there would be a line in the reading like “Did they really hang dogs a witches?” This was an interesting quote so all the kids reading on their pocket PC’s began to look it up. Some teachers found it to be good, and others a distraction.

But a problem with sharing reading materials occurs when one tries to share them electronically, especially with a Kindle.

Audience: You can share books on a Kindle!

Marshall: Even DRM ones?

Audience: You can share them if they’re in the public domain.

But that’s not the same as sharing a book. The problem is that you have to have an ID or account to share that data. You can’t just pass it to the next person, like you would with an analog book. You can’t share the data itself, or annotations, or things you’ve torn out.

Speaking of tearing out data; we all have experienced this. Tearing out data makes us this of our mothers, our mothers or brothers or sisters, tearing something out and mailing it to us.

H3>A Few Questions About Sharing Encountered Information

How important/ubiquitous is the information? Do people cut out things to annoy people?

It’s kind of like, you buy a magazine because of the things you might find in there. But you don’t know what’s going to be in there.

Audience: I now look at people’s Twitter feeds to see what I should look at.

At this point, @brampitoyo said (on Twitter) “@caseorganic Twitter is made for sharing artifacts encountered everywhere else. RT is one of the forms.”

Marshall: What are some of the reasons people share?

1. Sharing for mutual awareness.

2. At work, in customer-focused jobs.

3. At home, keeping up with friends and family
short of a way to keep in synch.

4. Sharing to educate or raise consciousness. Valued by sender — perhaps not by receiver.
Mostly occurred for personal topics/home

Audience: I was thinking with Twitter how funny it is, how the more boring Twitter users just send out links, and we don’t get to know them as person.

Audience: Well, I like those people!

5. Sharing to strengthen social ties
“I’m thinking of you”
“We have common concerns”
“We have the same sense of humor”.

Audience: Or sometimes you’re sharing to make people think you’re smart

Yes, we just notice it because it’s so obnoxious, but it’s rally not that prevalent. Just sharing knowledge to show off.

Audience; Or sharing to “hint”, like “I’m thinking about getting a camera”.

P2, a high school student, receives links to online article from her dad sometimes as often as 2 or 3 times a day. She usually reads he article son the screen and doesn’t keep them. For example her dad recently sent her an article from the NY Times. “Sending these articles is nice. I don’t know how we started doing it, but it feels nice to know people are thinking about you. It’s our way of keeping in touch.

Marshall: Here’s an example of sharing to educate.

P15 has a pre-adolescent son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. The mother found an article on educating children with Asperger’s syndrome and photocopied the “really good” article from Time. Then she told the her son’s teacher that she should read it.

The Social Role of Sharing: Myth Busting

All four participants in our study shared information. None of them dominated in sharing the inormation, and none of them were the single sharers of information.

This busts the idea of people setting themselves up as “information brokers’ not many people just
send out completely, or one-way. Everyone sends out a few links.

Audience: There are some people on Twitter who Retweet. I don’t really like that.

Audience: Tell them!

Marshall: I’m worried about you and Twitter. We should talk later.

Audience: I work alone, so it’s my water cooler that I check every few hours.

Marshall: Still, I think you’re spending too much time on it.

It’s more complicated than that!

Riox looked at why people share or don’t share data.

Do I have the recipients email address at hand?
What will it look like?
Will this seem impersonal?
Will the Email look like spam?
(Riox, 2000).

Form is important.

A technological solution for sharing should:

-Present a sense of layout and article boundaries.
-Allow the sender to limit or expand scope or context (compare sending a photo plus text vs. part of text).

Modes of Sharing are Important

“My plan is to actually give a hardcopy of an article from nature to him and talk to him about it, rather than just put it in his inbox because he’d kind of wonder where it came from or why he was getting it. And I’d rather say, hey, I saw this online and it’s pretty interesting. Check it out”.

Because he wants to get this higher into another person’s attention instead of the low attention the recipient might give the article should he receive it through a digital source.

“I have come to view margins as a literary commons with grazing room from everyone – the more, the merrier”. – Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris : Confessions of a Common Reader, London : Penguin Books, 1998.

Of course, sharing annotations is more complicated than it looks.

See, for example, Shipman et al., ECDL 2003.

I was working at Microsoft Research and a guy on my team said, “wouldn’t it be cool if the annotations you wrote would be sent to the author of the book?” and I said, “No! I’d be dead!”.

But, I thought, is there a way to take multiple highlighting, annotations of multiple copies of the same book and see commonalities between them, in order to deduct the most useful pieces of text — a sort of wisdom of crowds sort of boil-down?

Annotations in the Aggregate

Consensus is significantly more common than predicted by strict probabilistic calculations of overlap.

Annotators converge on important text that is different than the text that the authors and publisher designate as important.

Annotation; collective effects. If you had dozens and dozens of books, could you use a ‘wisdom of crowds approach to zoom in on something that was important? Something that many different people underlined across all of the books? Some essential passage?

Audience: The Folksonomy of Cliffnotes? Is that what you’re getting at?

Marshall: Maybe… Kind of.

Audience: Or like a Wiki?

Collaboration and reading technologies; What of displays – are we thinking enough about “looking on” or shared focus?

How do social expectations interact with restrictions introduced by Digital Rights Management?

Which collaboration architectures will work for people using the same collections (i.e…annotation, reading rooms, bookmark servers)?

Are there new modes of collaboration enabled by digital devices?


XLibris studies: Morgan price, Bill Schilit, and Gene Golovchinsky at FXPAL.

About Cathy Marshall

Cathy Marshall is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley; she has knocked around in both the product and research divisions at Microsoft. Cathy has long worked in the disciplinary interstices of computer science, information science, and the humanities, with occasional collaborations in the arts and the sciences. She was a long-time member of the research staff at Xerox PARC and is an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M University. Cathy won the ACM Hypertext conference’s best paper award in 1998 and 1999, and the best paper award at the IEEE/ACM Joint Conference on Digital Libraries in 1998 and 2008. She has delivered keynotes at WWW, Hypertext, Usenix FAST, CNI, VALA, ACH-ALLC, and a variety of other CS and LIS venues.
MS Reader study:
Contact info:

cathymr [at] Microsoft [dot] com.

About the Writer

Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist studying the effects of technology on the way humans think, communicate, and act. She can be reached at caseorganic [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @caseorganic.