Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Reid and I were talking about humility and how most truly confident and capable people are usually pretty humble. We talked about how even a few self-defacing comments can go a long way and making you look pretty smart. So here's the paradox. When you know that I know this and I say something self-defacingself-effacing, it can look stupid if it is intentional and not sincerely. So how do you know when someone is sincerely humble, or just acting humble. Or does it even matter? I guess acting humble insincerely is still better than being arrogant and having to prove yourself at someone's expense. Being humble naturally is probably the coolest, but it isn't just a matter of trying. Kind of like trying REALLY hard to meditate doesn't help you meditate. ;-)

So, Friendster testimonials. Friendster is yet another site that is a networking site, which if it didn't ask you whether you had an open marriage when you signed up, wouldn't seem so much like a dating site. Anyway, Friendster has a feature which allows you to write testimonials about each other. I have received two. Frank and Liz wrote REALLY nice things about me. I assume they are sincere since they are sincere people. I am going to write something nice about them back since I like them both A LOT. But... what if someone writes something nice about me even though they don't really mean it. I will feel guilted into possibly writing something nice about them back. If I don't I look like a jerk. If I do, I could look like fake.

I think that as we design tools for social networking, some of these nuances are going to become important. Different circles have different cultures. Some people thrive on ego and put-downs. Some people thrive on humility. How does this affect the design of the tools...


Joi, you get all the fun.

Did the conversation get around to unpacking the constructed fictions of real and perceived humilities? The cultural embeddedness of expectations of humility, and its fetishization in certain contexts?

In my heart, I agree with you. I truly envy and admire the wise, humble, sincere soul. I could point to them in my life, and do them great honour. But to me that's a personal thing, and I do question what my attitude is towards that mode of representation of self, and what manipulative mechanisms are culturally embedded in it.

Oh, I was working with some of my students, who are studing eDemocracy, and one of them tricked me into developing the idea of Embedded Democracy versus emergent democracy. I was explaining Elinor Ostrom's (political scientist) work in self governing common pool resources (CPRs) in relation to technology. I used to teach an environmental science course on CPRs, so it was a no brainer to relocalize Ostrom to tech, as many other people have done.

I think she's got lots to add to the debate, especially in conceptualizing emergent democracy technologies in relation to embedded democratic elements and issues. If my student's paper captures what we were talking about, I'll get her to post it.

As is so often the case in these "issues", semantics seems to be the order of the day. For example - the difference between Emergent versus Embedded doesn't mean anything to normal people, yet intellectuals would argue the nuances and subtleties for days.

So as a technologist and tool maker it seems really obvious to me that testimonials, like comments, trackbacks, feeds, subscriptions, etc. - even you face - get turned on and off. That's why God invented settings controls.

Good software should provide ways of customizing the experience to who you are and what you want. Great software will anticipate those needs and setup the appropriate defaults.

Incredibly perfect software will know, because the implants in your brain will dynamically update everything. There's no way ONE set of settings will be approrpriate to everyone.

One person's spam is another persons love letter. How do you KNOW that Liz and Frank were being sincere?

Jason, look forward to seeing the paper.

Good points Marc.

Well, any good testimonial about me MUST be sincere. ;-p


I think we would usually say "self-deprecating"

SEE! I told you - there goes one of those intellectuals worrying about the usage of words!

You think Homer Simpson cares about the difference between self-deprecating and self-defacing?

All he cares about is: "MORE DONUTS!"


Hey Joi,

I get a little error icon on IE when logging into your site. I don't think it's the Japanese language pack this time. And what's weird is I don't think your trackback is working. Instead of adding 1 entry to your trackback list I got some error on my side in linking to this entry. I don't think it's on my side because I've trackbacked others without problems..

I think the term Joi is thinking of is 'self-effacing' which isn't quite the same as self-deprecating. All in all, being self-effacing is a good thing, but being self-deprecating is a bad thing.

So you have the trackback problem too, huh, Gilbert7? Don't worry about it, the trackback is actually accepted, but the connection times out whilst Moveable Type is rebuilding Joi's rather big site.

Joi makes a good point about software to support social interactions. Guess what - social interactions and evaluations are complicated! You don't just take them at face value. I have a feeling (but no real evidence) that cultures vary a lot in how people go about recommending one another. Saying nice things about other people is common in the US, for example, but is quite unusual in the UK or Ireland. You'll notice this particularly if you look at the blurb on books.

The issue seems to be that we're wired for "hard" links (with our family, friends and co-workers) but increasingly live in a world of "soft" links (with our readers and writers).

For most of us the common rules of etiquette and ethics seem to be based on hard links but when applied to the many soft links we now possess our minds struggle for the right responses. I've yet to find a perfect balance in this myself and found few people who manage it perfectly amongst those I observe.

We seem to swing between high expectations of behaviour and common courtecies familiar in closer relationships to a complete lack of civility based on the perceived distance. There seems to be a great mismatch which fuels friction.

I don't think this is simply an issue of semantics and I'm not convinced any software can program human behaviour to such a degree whereby this mismatch becomes irrelevant. The right tool can only come about from an understanding of the social protocol that is useful for the application not the other way round.

One thing which interests me is given the fast changing nature of the Network and its variety of purposes are we at a stage where the social protocols are evolving and changing so fast we'll never truly come to grips with them? Or will it someday stabilise?

In the Net's short public history outside of academia the social norms, customs and the ability of vested interests to maintain them has seen several cycles of reneweal and reformation. Each new mode of communication has brought it's own challenges and those who take a structural approach to defining social protocols have faced an uphill battle to maintain these norms.

The net result has been to disband these norms as unenforceable or to gate off communities based on a common understanding of acceptable behaviour.

The real challenge of emergent democracy seems to be not in the organisation of political debate and reaching political consensus but in the management of a social understanding that doesn't break down to lawlessness.

Seyed, I agree with the general thrust of your insight, but being one of those problematic innerleckchuals, I'll have to quibble with the idea that we're "wired" for physical gregariousness but not the virtual kind.

I'd say we are *deeply accustomed* to im-mediate (i.e. unmediated), direct, personal contact. We have 20,000 or more years of rituals and agreements that handle these interactions - and not always well, mind you.

And I'd guess that, at the synaptic level, an association is an association, whether pursued through f2f or chat or whatever. I could be wrong.

Two ways:
* Absence of humility leads to abuse, a social spam that offends sensibilities. But the expression of ego also energizes cultures, and indeed, conversations. Delay the restriction of abuse until its called for.
* Different communities and tools will optimize along the humility-ego gradient. And thereby attract different kinds of users. Thats the difference between a Ryze page and a blog, for example. But somewhere in the middle of the gradient is honest communication, where trust is transparent.

I *heart* friendster :)

shh....I've been drinking ;)

I spent some time yesterday with Col. Dave Hughes, one of the more capable people on this planet, not exactly known for his humililty. As they say: exceptions for every rule!

Ah! Dave Hughes. I've known him since I was in high school. Yes. He is not humble, but he is great. ;-)