Some of you may know that I am a Toronto-based sociologist who frequently works in applied settings with designers and technologists. I’m intrigued with what appears to be happening in the Toronto scene where design and technology intersect. In particular, I’m fascinated with the role Twitter plays in organizing work. So I’m starting an ethnography of this scene, known through its Twitter hash tag of #TOEthno.
This is the very beginning. I’m still working out the details around my research question, the specific research target, and the difficulties with on and off-line mixed observation.
A few thought starters I have found so far:
- Computer-mediated social networks (CMSNs) play a significant, but changing role, in organizing work for these “creative class” of workers. Where once email reigned, then came Friendster, Facebook, and FriendFeed. Now Twitter is exploding as a form of one-to-one and many-to-many communication. What role does it play in organizing work?
- Geographic location is reinforced by virtual communication. People can create intimate relationships with people they’ve never met, true, but the real impact appears to be when CMSNs reinforce face-to-face meetings. The phrase “meat space” has emerged as a foil to “cyberspace.”
- CMSNs allow for the digitally enhanced experience of making both strong and weak ties. The digital experience, as Negroponte would tell us, are “co-mingling bits.” Now imagine friends’ conversations being “co-mingling bits” and mashed up to create new friendships, but also intensely knowable friendships. You can search and pinpoint exact moments in time when friendships change. You can search and know when new friendships start, when old ones die, when become something else (e.g., partnerships).
- Enforced sociality is emerging as a norm within this community. One must reach out, broadcast, make connections, meet people and be “out there” to be a hub in the community. The Twitter experience of the “@username” phenomenon is an intersting public showing of one’s sociality. One can immediately know the precise number of @ replies one receives. Indeed, these @ replies also are broadcasted to your mutual friends, making it publicly knowable how many times others reply to you. The number of one’s “followers” is also immediately known, as is the number of people one follows. The ratio of followers to followees suggests how desirable one is as a friend.
These are emerging ideas. I invite conversation about this. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/sladner