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Privacy – Security versus Simplicity

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I have two Twitter accounts.  I have two Twitter accounts because on Twitter there is no distinction between public and private.  So if I want to restrict something to just my friends, I can’t.  It’s all or nothing.  I know that chances are you don’t really truly care what I tweet about.  But considering how easy it is to dig up information about someone, I think it’s prudent that I reserve a portion of my online presence for just those who know me in real life. Of course the primary difference between my two accounts may just be whether or not I share what I ate for lunch, but I think that’s okay.

For Twitter, the privacy feature is simple.  Off or on?  Public or private?  Open or closed.  Facebook, on the other hand, isn’t so simple.  I have complete flexibility in terms of who can see what content and if they can comment on it.  I can lock down as much of my profile as I want, or I can let anyone with an internet connection take a look.  It’s up to me (and you).

Privacy on Facebook is complex.  Then again Facebook itself is complex (at least when compared to Twitter), so this makes sense.  As a result, Facebook has a tool that lets you look at your profile as if you were someone else:

Privacy has to be at the core of any internet service.  Users need to feel protected otherwise they probably aren’t going to want to participate.  They may not always recognize how protected they are (consider the modern day urban legend of embarrassing pictures on Facebook costing someone their job).  But that sense of security and trust remains important, even if it’s only in the minds of the users – although it should be forefront in the minds of the service providers as well.  We don’t even have to go very far back for examples.  The Google Buzz launch.  Facebook’s own recent changes to privacy settings.  Concerns about Foursquare leading to robbery.

But as social sharing services grow more and more complex, do privacy controls need to be scaled to match?  If Twitter decides to add more features, will they have move away from the private/public dichotomy and make things more complicated?  And what happens when another social platform rises up to join Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in what will then be the “big four” of the social networking space (insert your location based service of preference here)?

Obviously I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a third model for privacy on social media, one we haven’t even considered yet.  I guess I’ll be dual-tweeting till that happens.  What about you? How do you deal with the different privacy settings across the social platforms you use?

Written by Jed

March 27th, 2010 at 7:47 am

Posted in facebook,social media,twitter

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A Social Profile Updater

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I am a member of way too many online services.  You probably are too.  There’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Posterous, Brazen Careerist, Delicious, Squidoo, Ning, WordPress.com – and those are just the ones that I use at least once a month.  I’ve also got placeholder accounts set up at a variety of services in case I ever want to use them.

Even if I never log in, I still have profiles.  And if I want to do something like change my picture, I have to log in to each and every one to do so.  Granted, I can use Facebook Connect and Twitter OAuth to log in on many sites, which ties my profiles to just two places.  But not every place supports those services, and even if they do, chances are the profiles ask for different information.  On Twitter, I have 160 characters and a URL to describe myself.  On Facebook, I have as much room as I want to use.  And  what if I want to use different elements of each profile?  Maybe I want to include my favorite books from Facebook and my educational background from LinkedIn.  I can’t think of an easy way to do that right now.

I want to build a way to manage my entire identity online.  This is the idea behind OpenID I suppose.  But I want to build the reverse.  Even if I have one set of credentials to log in everywhere, I still have 18 different profiles (I just made that number up, but you get the idea).  What I want to build is kind of a modular system where you input all of your information that you’d ever want to share.  Then you provide the system with your login information and check off what you want your profile to say where.  Every time you update the modules, this updater propagates the changes to all of the other services you interact with.  So it’ll no longer take you a half a day to update your picture and bio on all of your profiles – you do it once and the system does the rest.  The closest analogy I have it that it’s like Ping.fm, but for profiles.

Now I know it’s a bit silly to be sharing this on my blog.  What I should do is go find an engineer or two, build this, find funding, and launch it.  By posting it here, I’m letting this idea out into the wild where others can create it without having any obligation to me.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take because, well, I honestly have no idea if I could get this thing off the ground.  For that matter, it may already exist.  Or it could violate the TOS of any of the websites that it would update.

While I figure that all out, what do you think? Would you use this updater? What am I missing? I’d love to get some feedback.

Written by Jed

January 8th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Posted in social media

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Do Numbers Equal Value?

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Every so often, someone new starts to follow me on Twitter.  Most of the time I look at the e-mail, click through to their profile, and decide whether I want to follow them back.  But every so often I get a follower notification that I just delete immediately.  More often than not it’s spam.  But not this time.

Here’s what Twitter told me about a certain “person” who just started following me (names omitted to protect the not-so-innocent):

Does this seem kind of ridiculous to anyone else?  What sort of earth shattering revelations must be in this person’s 99 tweets that over 40,000 people are following him?

Let’s take a look…

I decided to take a slightly scientific approach to this.  Here’s a few vitals:

  • According to When Did You Join Twitter?, this person joined Twitter on March 25, 2009.
  • I looked the handle up on Twitter Grader, where the account scored a 98.
  • I then used Twitterholic to get historical data on friends, followers, and updates.  Then I graphed the results:

To give myself a sense of perspective, I ran a number of other users through Twitter Grader as well.  Guy Kawasaki’s, Justine Ezarik’s, Drew Olanoff’s, Evan Williams’, Biz Stone’s, and Jack Dorsey’s accounts all scored a 98.2.  I plugged in another 15 or so users (not all celebrities), and only four of them had scores lower than 98 (sampling biases include following them and finding them interesting).  Only one had a score lower than a 90.

It’s absolutely obvious that this user is gaming the system.  They’re using any one of the hundreds of ways out there to increase their follower numbers, probably by agreeing to follow everyone back.

So?

We’ve come to use following/follower numbers as a measurement of influence or value.  But it’s simply not true.  I don’t care what rationale you have, 99 tweets in 270 days can’t enrich the lives of 40,000 people.  It’s just not possible.

Numbers have become a heuristic for the social web.  We have a mental shortcut that says that higher numbers are better than lower ones, and we use it to judge authenticity or likability or popularity or any other number of traits.  But we can’t keep on using numbers as an indicator.  This user that I’ve featured here shows us that it’s much too easy to fake them.  And if you don’t believe me, consider that there are 15,740 experts on Twitter according to Mashable (Pete Cashmore scores a 100 on Twitter Grader by the way).

What else is there?

There’s a lot written on how to sell social media to your boss, and almost everything will at least mention return on investment.  And ROI is always going to be measured based on numbers – whether it’s sales, cost per thousand (CPM), click-throughs, subscriptions, or customer surveys.  It’s a numbers game, sadly.

But maybe, together, we can come up with some better numbers.  What do you think?

Written by Jed

December 27th, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Threadsy

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I wish I could go to more social media events/conferences/festivals/whatever.  Sadly, my schedule is a bit tight, and I don’t live on the west coast.

I stumbled across Threadsy via Twitter (the opening comment makes sense when you consider that Threadsy launched at Techcruch 50).  Anyway, it looks interesting, and I signed up for a beta invite.  Then, because they asked, I started filling out their survey.  In addition to the usual demographic information, they asked “How would you improve email, Twitter, or Facebook?”

Before I post my response, I should note that I don’t have access to Threadsy now.  And I didn’t write this post because I want an invite faster.  Don’t get me wrong, I do want to try it out, but I wrote this post because they made me think.  So way to go them – in my eyes, that’s as important as providing a service I’ll actually use.

Now here’s my response to their survey question:

I think Threadsy is a good way to start. With the rise of Twitter clients (especially those that can integrate with other services), we now have an expectation that not everyone will view social media content the same way – that way being through the service’s website. Opening up the data stream across platforms and allowing third party applications to access, sort, and analyze it can help to increase the signal to noise ratio, and make sure that we’re seeing content we actually want to see.

I suppose this mirrors the original development of e-mail clients, especially when you consider that they often include additional features beyond that of what e-mail services provide (like better spam filtering).

This said, it’s interesting to note that nothing above truly changes the concept of e-mail – although that may be just what it needs considering that it’s been around since the 1970s. And if I knew how to completely revamp e-mail, well, I’d probably be off trying to do it.

So yeah.  That’s what popped into my brain in response to their question (and I didn’t even go into Google Wave).  I’m still thinking about this, but I’m also curious – how would you make e-mail better?

Written by Jed

September 16th, 2009 at 10:06 am

Microsyntax

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Note: I’ve updated this post with a few new thoughts on some recent changes to Facebook.  Check out the end if you’ve already read this.

As far as I can remember, the first time I heard the word “microsyntax” was at The 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) during a talk by Stowe Boyd.  Among other things, Stowe writes/runs Microsyntax.org, which proposes and tracks new forms of microsyntax.  Examples:

  • The hashtag – using #word as a way to track a topic
  • The retweet – sharing a tweet from someone else using either RT @user or (via @user)
  • CoTags – marking who wrote a tweet using ^AB, where AB are the writer’s initials

All of these are focused on Twitter, yes.  I suppose that’s what happens when you only have 140 characters to work with – you start to invent shorthand for various grammatical constructs.  There are three things that I’ve been thinking about lately (not related to any specific platform):

  1. The development, mainstream adoption, and evolution of microsyntax tells you something about the network in which it is used.  I’m thinking primarily that it means that there is a large enough (semi-cohesive) community willing to embrace a standardized form of communication.  I suppose that the development and evolution of these elements also provide for a way to study a medium’s network and determine the flow of ideas and influence.
  2. Mainstream adoption of a microsyntax allows for its modification by the platform.  I’m thinking here of the change that Twitter made to the way @replies work.  If you’re not aware, you only see people’s replies to users you also follow, whereas a while back you had the option of seeing every tweet a user sent.  That’s why some users put a period in front of reply tweets, or shift the username of the person they’re replying to to the end of the tweet.  Veronica Wei Sopher has a great explanation of the change and how it impacts you, if you want to read more.  There’s also Twitter’s upcoming formal adoption of the retweet and alteration of the concept.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, it becomes the responsibility of users to learn current microsyntax.  Like verbal language, microsyntax can change; that said, it happens a lot faster due to the connective, real time nature of the Internet.  I’m surprised at how many Twitter users regularly forget to change their tweets as a result of the change to @replies; they forget that a lot of their tweets that they intend for many users are in fact seen by just a few.  It then becomes our responsibility to understand and properly use different microsyntaxes so that we can better engage with the community and accurately portray our thoughts to the public.

What might this mean for you?

Here’s what I think:

If you’re a user, try and follow the ways in which microsyntax changes over the course of your time on a particular platform.  Or create your own – it may just evolve into the next big thing on the platform you use.

If you’re a platform, try and listen to your users (which you probably should be doing anyway).  When they create a new syntax, consider adopting it and developing it in a way you feel is consistent with the overall principles of your service.  Or don’t and allow the community to manage it; it’s one more choice evolving social networks must make as they grow.

Update:

(9.10.09 11:10 PM)

Something related happened that I can write about!

Facebook added @mentions to status updates today.  Pretty cool, and I think an interesting example of how the development of microsyntax is not focused on a single platform.  Instead, it’s about creating standards that allow users to communicate clearly, regardless of where they’re actually communicating.  Think about the other standards you interact with when you use the web – domain names, programming languages, UI/UX, and so on (never mind the hardware standards in your computer).  Are any of those so open to modification by us, the end users?  Not so much.  Which is why I think the opportunity to create standards of communication like microsyntax is so unique – it is perhaps one of the few chances the general community has to shape the social web of tomorrow.

Written by Jed

September 8th, 2009 at 11:17 am

Posted in social media

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Squidoo, Followers or Friends, and Twitter on the TV

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So this is the first of my experimental series of mini-posts; just a few thoughts on some things I’ve come across recently.  As/if I write more detailed entries, I’ll insert links.

Squidoo Internship

Remember that Squidoo internship I wrote about a little while ago?  Happy to say that I was selected for it and have been working on it for the last few weeks or so.  There’s five of us; we’re a mixture of experienced Squidoo lensmasters, bloggers, left- and right-brainers.  We’re putting together a few different things now, and while they’re still in the planning phase, stay tuned!  I personally find what we’re doing is really exciting, the people I work with are incredibly engaging and remarkable, and I’m looking forward to seeing our efforts grow over the course of the next month and a half (the internship ends mid-October).

Followers versus Friends

Brazen Careerist has chosen a follower model for their (somewhat) new social network.   Instead of becoming “friends” with someone, you become their fan, and as a result all of their activity across the site is added to your feed.  It’s an interesting choice, and one that many new social networks must make.  In a follower model, you may end up with all sorts of skewed network dynamics (some might say weak ties if they span interest groups) due to the single sided nature of the relationships.  On the other hand, you have the reciprocity principle driving people to follow back and complete the two way relationship – something that defeats the point of establishing a one-way relationship network.  Brazen Careerist is not LinkedIn, and it of course serves a different function.  But I wonder how Brazen Careerist’s network will grow given this one-way relationship, and what we will be able to learn from comparing it to LinkedIn.

Fringe “Tweet-peat”

I watched the “Tweet-peat” of Fringe on Fox last night (I happen to like the show), and it’s an interesting concept.  They had a number of producers and cast members responding to viewer questions and providing thoughts throughout the show, which they both broadcast on @FRINGEonFOX and over the airing of the episode on the TV.  It’s an interesting blending of new media and old.  I’ve seen this done before, like with Current TV’s election coverage, but it’s nice to see the larger networks hopping on the bandwagon.  One thing though: they only broadcast the tweets of the producers and cast on the TV, so it was like listening to half a conversation.  It would have been much better had they put the questions and answers up, so we could follow along.  Or better yet, they could also have had a streaming version of the episode so we wouldn’t have to watch two screens to get the whole picture – it was a bit distracting.  There’s another tweet-peat tonight of Glee, which I actually don’t plan on watching, but I wonder if they’ll take the lessons they learned from last night and apply them tonight.

Written by Jed

September 4th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

A Different Strategy is Required

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I wrote a post a little while ago about how I was going through a period of social media fatigue.  It kind of faded into the background a bit, but ever since then I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to engage with others online.

We do this in a variety of ways.  Some of us form deep personal relationships.  Others joke and play.  Still others network on a purely business level.  We all choose different ways to join the digital community.

I joined Facebook (five years ago!) to keep in touch with high school friends as we all spread out to varying colleges.  I joined Twitter (it’s already been over a year) first because a variety of friends were on it and then because of all the interesting people I could follow.  I joined LinkedIn because that’s what you do for business networking (not going to lie – still don’t know what I’m doing there).  I joined a host of other networks that I don’t even use (just in case I want to some day).

And then there’s this blog.

It’s a bit weird to consider writing a blog as a form of engagement, in that it is kind of a one way form of communication.  After all, I moderate the comments, I write the entries, I control how my posts are distributed to the public.  But the fact of the matter is that I release this blog out into the world for others to read.  And I read the blogs of others.  In a manner of speaking it’s a two way network, because what I don’t control is what you think of me (and what I think of you).

I originally created this blog in part because I wanted to express my opinions.  Because I wanted to control what people would see when they Google me.  And because it’s kind of what you expect from Gen Y-er who is interested in social media.

What does this mean exactly?

Looking back at my usage of this blog and other social media networks, I’ve decided that a change is in order.  Here’s three things I hope to do:

  • Stop following people on Twitter just because I like the idea of following them.  More often than not I end up skipping over/missing their tweets anyway.  Why do I follow a ton of internet marketers and graphic designers when I am interested in the fields but not involved in them?
  • Explore new networks.  Brazen Careerist recently relaunched their site to incorporate more social networking features.  I’m not sure if I’ll use it yet, but I should at least invest time in the network to see if I like it.  As new networks launch (and old ones evolve), I would like to alter the way I use them to match.
  • Make a commitment to this blog.  Even if few people read it, this is still my own little corner of the Vox Populi.  My own place to express my thoughts and figure out what works for me in the digital space.

So?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to experiment.  I’ll be starting by posting short commentaries about a few things at the same time.  Chances are some of these will be revisited when I write full entries, but most things will probably start as these “seed” posts.  You can think of it as something between the 140 characters of Twitter and the paragraphs of more traditional entries.

First up?  Probably a thought or two on the new Brazen Careerist, plus a look at the difference between reciprocal and one way relationships in social networking communities.  Check back soon.

Written by Jed

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:16 am

How Do You Do, Squidoo?

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One of the pretty very interesting people I follow on Twitter is Susan Villas Lewis.  I started following her because someone (I forget who) tweeted about her job search.  Instead of going out and submitting resumes, Susan decided to hire a boss.  Which I think is awesome.  It’s an amazing, creative spin on the often frustrating job hunt and something I wish I had thought of myself – although I don’t have anywhere near the kind of qualifications Susan has.  Anyway, a few days ago she tweeted about this internship at Squidoo with Megan Casey, the Squidoo Editor-in-Chief.  Seeing as to how my internship with Careerealism is ending soon, I’ve decided to go ahead and apply.

You know, it’s kind of funny that through my college career, when people often intern everywhere, I basically worked in one place.  Now that I’ve graduated, I’m applying for internships even with a full time job.

But that’s beside the point.  The point is that the application process is to create a Squidoo lens featuring what you’ve done.  So I did.  It’s all about my undergraduate degree, and it’s kind of a chronological walk through my experience at Gallatin.  Check it out (although some of the content was featured here, so it may be a bit of a repeat).

I’ve been working on it for the last few days, and it was an interesting experience.  Any Squidoo lens consists of a series of modules, and you can mix and match modules to create the layout you want.  It’s an interesting system, kind of a mixture of blogging and outside sources of content.  I was able to tie in videos, photos, and Amazon listings into the lens, and it’s that last bit that is particularly interesting.

Squidoo’s revenue is split, 45% to the company, 5% to charity, and 50% to the writer.  And it’s across your lens, so it includes Amazon referrals and Google ad revenue.  I like that they let you donate everything to charity (which is what I’ve done).  I also see the potential for spam – don’t you?

Overall, creating the lens was quite a fascinating and reflective experience, even if I’m not selected for the internship.  I also wonder how many people have joined Squidoo in hopes of landing a position (by the way, Megan commented on the internship announcement saying they’ve already received 50 submissions, so this ought to be interesting), so from that perspective alone I find this interesting.

Do you use Squidoo?  If so, how?  I’m going to start working on another lens soon, but I need some ideas.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think I should write on!

Written by Jed

August 6th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Cross Platform Integration

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Cross platform integration can be a great thing.  Promoting and sharing content from one network to another can improve the quality and spread of information, and it can invite new perspectives on a discussion.  But there are definite downsides.  Let’s take this whole Twitter/Facebook and FriendFeed/Facebook integration mess that’s going on right now.  As far as I can figure out, what’s happening is that individual’s Twitter and FriendFeed posts are being mass pushed to Facebook, even if they didn’t turn on that feature.  It’s probably because of a change in the Facebook apps that integrate those services.  I feel comfortable saying this because it’s happening to people with both their Twitter and FriendFeed accounts connected to their Facebook.

Chances are, some behind the scenes change to the way the Facebook applications get data from Twitter and FriendFeed has led to this.  Or maybe it’s some changes they’ve made to the settings on status updates has overridden the application’s settings; if I remember correctly you can display the apps in your profile but not update your status (not sure because I don’t use these apps).  I don’t know for sure – I’m not a computer programmer, so this is all just possibilities and a little bit of common sense.  Either way, there are a few lessons we can learn from this I think.

  • If you’re a platform, please test changes before you go live.  This seems obvious, but “testing” when you have a userbase of 250 million like Facebook does means a lot of variables have to be considered.  I don’t want to be critical of Facebook –  let’s cut them some slack, and recognize that they can’t test every scenario, and things like this will happen (as much as they’d prefer they didn’t).
  • If you’re a developer, remember that you’re not working in a vacuum.  If you use the Twitter or Facebook APIs, you have to remember that you don’t own them.  Expect that changes will be made, and be willing to be flexible.  Plan accordingly, and build in contingency plans if you can.
  • If you’re a user, recognize that you use different platforms for different purposes.  I use Twitter for public stuff and Facebook for friends only stuff.  I hardly use FriendFeed (sorry FriendFeed, I just haven’t worked you into my routine).  It’s cool if you want to mix them; I don’t.  Either way, think about how you integrate all of your services across the web.  Keep in mind that those services are all created by different companies and have different goals.  Just because you want to send one unified message doesn’t mean that you should hook as many services into one another as possible.  Instead, keep in mind that each channel is different and deserves a slightly different approach.  This applies to companies too – would you use a radio ad on television?  Of course not!  So should you really be using a Facebook campaign on Twitter?  (Note: not a rule, just a suggestion).

Anyway, things like this are reminders that social media is still a new space.  Sure, Facebook has been around for years, and the White House uses Twitter as part of its communication strategy now.  But we still play and work in this fluid, dynamic environment that is subject to change – and we must be prepared to accept issues like this one, and be patient until they are resolved.

In the meantime, here’s how to block the Twitter and FriendFeed apps on Facebook – just click “Block Application” on the left. (This issue has been resolved).  And why don’t you leave a comment and let me know what you think while you’re at it?

EDIT (7.30, 8:30 AM EST):  I was reading the two articles at Mashable about this, and scrolling through the comments, I saw many negative responses to the whole situation.  Can someone please explain this to me?  Do we really expect social media companies to be perfect in everything they do?  It’s not like Facebook started putting everyone’s information on the Internet….they just posted a public feed somewhere it wasn’t meant to go (on another public website).  I don’t really get it.

Written by Jed

July 29th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Posted in facebook,twitter

Tagged with ,

Social Media Fatigue

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I’ve  been experiencing social media fatigue over the last few weeks.  I’m not sure why, and I don’t know how to stop it.  What is interesting to me about this though it that social media is an entirely voluntary experience.  I choose to log into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, etc, and if I want to leave all I have to do is close my web browser.  So why should I feel overwhelmed with social media when I choose when I want to interact with it?

Take a look at the right hand side of this page and you’ll see a list of links to a few social media sites I’m on.  I’ve signed up for so many services, I can’t begin to assemble a full list.  Tumblr, Posterous, Delicious, YouTube, Disqus, Google, Scribd, SlideShare, and on and on and on.  My accounts on some of these sites are just placeholders in case I decide one day to use whatever features that platform provides.  And what I’ve listed here just scratches the surface of what is online.  What does the fact that there are websites like namechk dedicated solely to checking username availability tell us about the space that social media occupies?

This may perhaps be at odds with my last post, as there I was all excited about the growth of the third dimension of the social graph.  But as social functions are built into more and more websites, we run the risk of being unable to isolate ourselves from others online if we want to.  And why would we want to?  Any number of reason I suppose, from frustration with spam to a desire for privacy to a temporary bout of misanthropy.

Remember that work/life balance concept you may have heard of?  I wonder if we should begin to focus on a physical/digital balance as well as more and more people, companies, and brands enter the digital space.  As high speed mobile internet access spreads, should we be working to grow the number or quality of the interactions we participate in in the real world to match?  What happens when we shift more and more online to a hyperconnected web that lacks many of the nonverbal cues we use during in person interactions?  How can we stay engaged and focused when we flit from platform to platform like a hummingbird amongst the flowers?  And can we afford to take a break from social media to relax and focus on the real world without harming other’s perceptions of us?

Hopefully my social media fatigue will resolve itself soon.  In the meantime, I suppose I’ll be observing more than participating – which is one of the pluses of digital interactions I suppose.

Written by Jed

July 19th, 2009 at 8:48 pm