Groups

For the past year, I’ve been thinking that the ability to form groups is one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human.  I’m not sure quite how, but I think the formation and protection of groups are some of the building blocks of society.

The word group is being used to represent the social phenomenon in which one person decides to interact with other people within a specific shared context.

From the beginning of my life, I can describe many different groups I’ve been a part of, groups I’ve found myself in, groups I’ve tried to break into, and groups that I’ve been excluded from.  Put twenty children in a kindergarten classroom and you’ll observe groups of friends emerge.  How and why they emerge has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

Groups come and go.  In the professional domain, the primary group you participate in is supposedly out of some business necessity.  In consulting, the main group you participate in is your team.  The structure of the team is decided on by managers.  Teams are formed in order to complete projects.  The group serves a very utilitarian goal.  If the group that you are in fails to add value in whatever way value is defined for the organization you are in, then the group serves no purpose.  If this happens, many times this leads to the disbanding of a group.

Groups that form in the social domain are a little different.  Groups of friends are a little harder to define.  What is the difference between a group of people and the individual relationships between two people within the group?  How does information disperse throughout a group?  Does the complexity of a group increase as more members are added to it?  Within a group, what are the sub-group dynamics?  How and why do groups form?  How do they disband?

In order to make the subject matter more accessible and intelligible to others, it’s necessary to define a preliminary vocabulary that’s going to be used to describe some social phenomena.

  • Groups: The social phenomenon in which one person decides to interact with other people within a specific shared context.
  • Group Structure: The members of the group and the specific shared context of the group.
  • Group Dynamics: The interactions and operations between the members of the group over time.  How the specific shared context of the group changes over time.
  • Group Theory: The study of groups.

Many people think that language, specifically linguistic expression, is the founding characteristic of society.  I believe that the groups that people form with each other is a more intrinsic part of society than language.  I also think that people can form groups with one another in the absence of linguistic expression.  I also believe its that this ability to form groups with people is the founding characteristic of society.

First Novella on Kindle Store

My first novella is now available on the Kindle Store.  It’s about a 26 year old nomad, who has a peculiar interest in linguistics, that is going through a quarter-life crisis.

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My first Novella

I just finished my first novella. The entire text is available for free in the link below. It’s about a 26 year old nomad, who has a peculiar interest in linguistics, that is going through a quarter-life crisis.

vicarious.ly (public v1.1)

I’ve been writing this for the past five months. Thanks to everyone who’s read drafts and provided input.

Online Check-in

In the past year, I’ve spent about one hundred days in an airport commuting to and from work every week.  When I enter the airport on Monday mornings, I realize that the next 84 hours will go by in a flash.  Next thing I know it’s Thursday afternoon, and it’s time to go back home.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot that happens in the 4 days I’m at work — just when I think about it, I cannot describe the passage of time at work.  It’s just a suspended bag of experiences in the purgatorial sense.  It’s the weekends that keep the clock ticking.In the year that I have been working in St. Louis, I have never stepped foot in a single apartment or house.  I have not had one home cooked meal.  I don’t know a single person in this city who isn’t staffed on the project that I am on.  The only weekend I spent here was when a tornado hit my airplane while it was on the tarmac.  The airport was shut down and I decided to stay, instead of driving back ‘home’.  It didn’t really matter much, I’d forget at times that I had an apartment in Chicago.

I began to seriously consider moving out of Chicago when I realized that the only things inside my apartment were an airbed, nightstand, desk, and bookshelf.  To me, it didn’t matter, I’ve always considered myself a nomad.  What made the decision easier is when I realized ever since I started working in St Louis I spent about one weekend a month in Chicago.

The way I felt when somebody would ask me the question “where do you live?” was the first sign of identity distortion.  I couldn’t quite answer that question.  Was it St. Louis?  Boston?  Chicago?  Tampa? I would visit each one of these cities frequently enough that my presence wasn’t that of a visitor, I didn’t visit any of these cities enough to be called a resident.  Except for tax purposes.  Now the question is much easier to answer ever since I relocated to Tampa.  Having identities in multiple cities at the same time is much different than I ever thought it would be.  Difficult is not the right word to describe it.  I just think there are a lot of side effects to this kind of lifestyle.

Six months ago I really tried to write a little piece about my perception of reality.  I kept thinking “my day to day just doesn’t feel real.”  At that time, the only thing that I thought was making me feel strange was that I was ‘living’ my life more on the Internet than in the external world.  I went on to describe how when I was a child, “the Internet was fundamentally different than reality.  It was more like an alternate universe.”  Damn, how things have changed in the past decade.

Around June or July, I really began to think that that I exist as a collection of text shared over the Internet to most of my friends.  I communicate to most people I know almost exclusively via writing.  Most of the time it’s in an asynchronous manner.  My Facebook profile, Quora account, and email address are the aliases that have become such an integral part of my identity.

This whole electronic identity thing is what sometimes keeps me restless in my impersonal hotel room.  People crave the real thing.  Not just electrical pulses.  Not just signals sent to somebody else through sentences.  That doesn’t sustain you, no matter how much you try. I think that’s why people don’t travel more than they do, without being permanently relocated.  People would go nuts, if they spent months at a time in a hotel room away from people who matter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love what I do.  It’s a thrill.  Sustainable?  Sure, why not?  More on that later.  Enough to write a book… or more like a novella.

You might call me anti-clingy.  It’s somewhat a result of the way I live.  Now you see me, now you don’t.  It was nice catching up with you.  Maybe I’ll hear back, maybe not.  Doesn’t really matter either way.  I just wanted to take the opportunity to chat and let you know I’m still alive.  It’s time to shut down, I have a flight to catch in an hour.

Google Wave: the ripple effect

This piece has been on my to do list ever since Google announced in early August that they would pull support from Google Wave.

Google wave was one of the most highly anticipated online products of 2009.

Google Wave was unveiled at Google I/O on May 28, 2009 with an 80 minute introduction.  One of the first words Google used to describe Google Wave was that it was an “unbelievable product.”  That day, many analysts thought that Google was onto something big.  Something that would change the way that people communicated.  The original launch video is shown below.

Excitement

Google Wave was a mixture of twitter, email, and many other things — a hodgepodge.  There was one thing in particular, however, that defined the anticipation of this product.  What was that?  It was the ability to see the text that somebody is writing in real time — text would appear on screen as it was written, just like you are staring at the text you write in a word processor.

After daydreaming about the possibilities of real time, character by character, communication I immediately signed up for an invite.  I was extremely excited.

I waited patiently for six months for Google Wave to come out.  It’s the way technology works.  You see something one tech demo — and start imagining about the rosy possibilities that this new product will unlock.  It would be a whole new level of collaboration.

Beta

On November 26, 2009 — I found my Google Wave invite in my inbox.  It was an amazing moment.  All the waiting finally came to an end.  After I spent a few minutes configuring my account and adding some friends who already had the service I noticed that I had eight invitations to give out to other people.

Google Wave would not be a product if you had nobody to collaborate with.   It would be like having an email account with nobody to talk to or a Facebook account with no friends.  I decided to post a Facebook status to see if anybody else was interested in the product.  Responses came in pretty quick as shown below.

As soon as one of my friends signed up for the service I tested out the real-time document editing capabilities of Google Wave.  It was a blast — for about five minutes.  After you got over the fact that multiple users could edit a document at the same time with real-time character by character synchronization, you started to see the blemishes.  As with many things, the blemishes were enough to turn people away from using the product.  Namely, Google Wave was confusing and clunky.  Even the document editing was too basic and confined to get any real kind of work done.  Something that I spent six months day dreaming about only kept my attention for about thirty minutes when I started tinkering around with it.

Release

On May 19, 2010, Google Wave was released to the general public.  By then it was already too late.  As you can see from the figure below, the web search interest for Google Wave peaked in December of 2009 and then quickly dropped off.  The ‘official’ release of Google Wave was not even met with a spike in interest.  The fact of the matter is that the general public either did not want to try Google Wave or they heard that the functionality was not worth the price of admission.  The price of admission being simply creating a free Google Wave account.

Google announced that they would pull the plug on the development of Google Wave on August 4, 2010.  Were there some die hard users of Google Wave?  I’m sure there are, but how many of them do you personally know?  Well, Google Wave managed to create one wave — and that was a lot of hype.

You know what else Google Wave did?  It paved the way for the ripple effect.

The ripple effect

In April 2010, Google launched an updated version of Google Docs that had the feature that everybody was so excited about in Google Wave.  Below is the release video.

This was the first time that Google Docs had real-time, character by character, synchronization between multiple users. You could have multiple people working on the same document and text just appears.  As the months went on, this service got more responsive.  Now, multiple people can work on the same document and you see text appearing — almost like you are watching a phantom writer.

How is Google Wave tied into this?  The code that is required to make this kind of collaboration possible is no doubt very complex.  It takes a lot of testing and fine tuning to get it right.  A lot of trial, error, error, and more error.

What gave Google the ability to test this type of technology out until it finally worked?  Google Wave.  Even though Google Wave did not last — the code to real-time collaborative ability was reimplemented into one of Google’s signature products.  That’s what I like to call the ripple.

I would also like to conjecture that a lot of the Google Wave code that was fine tuned and tested made its way back into another Google product called Google Web Search.  You know, Google Instant.  That, again, is a very complicated chunk of code behind that minimalistic white bar.  I think Google learned a lot about how to code something that was ‘real-time’ while developing Google Wave.

Remember, I said Google Wave was clunky and confusing.  What it lead to though was quite the opposite.  It lead to some services that are quite elegant and minimalistic.  Now more people are starting to get on the real-time communication bandwagon.  It’s going to be an exciting time in technology.  Good bye Google Wave — hello new ways to communicate.

Is letter writing dead?

Today Facebook announced that they would implement a new messaging system that focuses on real-time, ‘conversational’, interaction throughout the next few months.  This messaging system has been in the works for over a year and uses many sophisticated data-processing methods.

I found that the most interesting part of the presentation had nothing to do with the new technology.  Rather, it had to do with Mark Zuckerburg’s comment stating that many people, “think that email is too slow.”  Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook employee, stated something along the lines of, “people don’t write letters anymore.  People don’t want to sit down and think about what they want to write.”

That made me think long and hard about the direction of modern communication. I think it is a great thing that communication has become almost instantaneous.  Video conferencing, real-time collaborative document editing, screen sharing, and instant messaging are such an integral part of my personal and professional life.

As these technologies advance, it is not surprising to think that people want a simpler way to communicate.  I have written before that one of the first major achievements of technology was that it bridged the physical gap between two separate locations.  Technology is now bridging the emotional gap between two separate locations.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing.

What concerns me is that people think the art of writing a well crafted message to another person is becoming obsolete.  I don’t think the classroom should be the only place where people learn how to communicate structured, analytic prose.  Many insights about life in general cannot be expressed in real-time.  Some things require time for reflection– creation.

I think that letter writing is one of the best ways to show somebody who you are.  I hope that practice does not go away, because I find that some of the most powerful conversations that I have had with people in the past and recently have been through letters.  Sure, we could have called each other.  But that would not allow us to construct a piece that stands on its own — only supported by the words contained in that one message.

Who thinks that letter writing is dead?  Maybe I’m becoming a dinosaur.

Facebook’s new messaging system at the moment is invite only.  You can request an invite by clicking here.

Real-Time Snapshot

The post How to brainstorm using Facebook which I wrote last month is already outdated by the new features that have been implemented into Facebook: notably Facebook Groups and Facebook Questions.

Here’s the million dollar question that I posted on Facebook Questions, a newly integrated feature that makes it easier to brainstorm by using Facebook.

“What would you do if you could have a complete snapshot of your business at any moment?”

If anyone has any suggestions, I would like to hear your comments.

Further Reading:
Business Intelligence
Data Mining
Neural Networks
Hadoop