What is the share button in Facebook?

Around the share button in Facebook some myth are available. Nobody is able to explain exactly what sharing is about. Today I want to make things more easier and explain what the general idea is.

At first a short look into the early forms of online-discussions make sense. In the Usenet area so called crossposting was used to ask the same questions in different groups. Even today, some Facebook marketing experts are using sharing synonym to crossposting and they are right. In the Usenet area crossposting was usually explained with a negative touch, similar to post spam in the groups. But let us construct a case in which crossposting make sense.

Suppose, in the usenet group comp.os.linux in a thread about the Linux scheduler a complex mathematical problem was discussed. One of the reader has the wonderful idea to deliver this problem a wider audience. He cites the problem in quotes and creates a so called forward message. That means, he opens up a new thread in sci.math in which he is asking the math group for help. What he has done is not spam, but he acts in the social role of a moderator. He has connected both groups in a meaningful way.

From the perspective of communication such a case is interesting, because the user doesn’t answer the question itself. Perhaps he is not familiar with the mathematical details. Instead he acts as a human reflector. He takes the problem from group a and crossposts the message to group b. This behavior is equal to what is called sharing in modern Facebook world. It is not a technical question of pressing a button, it is a linguistic pattern in which a person is not part of a discussion, but acts as a proxy between different groups. What the proxy is doing is to transform the domain specific language of the Linux group into the mathematical language spoken in the Math group. He doesn’t answer the question, but he is managing the discussion. That means the user is trying to include people from the outside in the problem in a productive way.

On the first look, this behavior doesn’t make much sense. If somebody is not able to provide an answer to a problem, why should he post the same question to another group? But a look into real groups shows, that a moderated group is superior to a non-moderated group. It makes the communication easier.

The most compelling form of cross posting is a language translation between natural language. A question which was discussed in a German newsgroup can be forwarded to a English speaking newsgroup and vice versa. The task of the human proxy between is, to translate the message. That means, to convert the message from German into English. This makes sense, because the audience is different. Without the translation, group1 isn’t aware of what is happening in group2. SUch kind of translation is also possible in the same langauge group. The case of a Linux speaking newsgroup vs. a mathematical newsgroup was already mentioned. The situation here is, that between the groups the people are different. In the LInux group the people have no idea about mathematics, and in the mathematics group the people are not familiar with Linux. If somebody is able to translate back and forth he can bring the discussion forward.

In modern days, this translation is called crossposting or cross-marketing. The idea is to connect different groups. For example a post on Facebook can be shared on Twitter. And people who are doing so are called influencer. They are connecting both worlds. What they are providing to the community is not knowledge itself, but the ability to translate between knowledge groups. Like a translator between German and English, they are not interested in the information itself, but trying to manage a discussion. In modern media theory, this behavior is called gatekeeper, because all the messages have to go through the bottleneck.

On the first look, gatekeepers are no longer needed in the Internet age, because all the information are available for free. But gatekeeping works on a linguistic level. That means, it makes it easier to access to information, because it reduces language barriers and domain specific barriers.

A famous example for an Artificial Intelligence gatekeeper is “Sirai Raval”. On the first look he is doing nothing. He is not a scientists who is researching new neural networks. What he is doing is to translate knowledge which is already available in fulltext for a new target audience. He speaks both languages: the academic language and the mainstream language of computer amateurs. What Sirai Raval is doing successfully is to moderate between both groups. He takes information from the academic community and forwards the messages to a mainstream audience who might be interested in the same knowledge.

According to the numbers, he is doing his role very well. Around 0.5 million people are following his youtube-channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWN3xxRkmTPmbKwht9FuE5A

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Anonymous teamwork

The term teamwork has many meanings. In it’s purest form it is equal to a group of people who are working on a project at the same time. An example is a closed facebook group which contains 12 members who are sending messages back and forth. These teammates know each other personal and the team isn’t communicating with the public. Apart from this strict definition, other kind of group interactions are possible. The next step after a closed Facebook group is an online community for example Stackoverflow. Here is no classical group formed, instead the messages can be read by the whole world. The communication takes place in so called threads and anybody can answer a topic. It is no longer nessary, that the teammates know each other in person. This provides for the individual a higher degree of independence.

An online community can be extended to a very abstract form of team work, called gutenberg galaxis. Here is the idea, that no real time discussion is taken place, instead a preprint server is used which is filled by authors with content. The individual doesn’t communicate against a group, instead he is talking to a sheet of paper. He writes a longer esssay of 20 pages, converts the file into the pdf format and uploads it to the preprint server. Such a gutenberg galaxis provides the most amount of anonymity. Because the author is not forced to discuss on a topic base, but he can write in his paper what he want’s. At the same time, the file can be read and referenced by anybody, so the paper becomes part of a larger group.

What I want to express is, that teamwork can take place on many different levels. Strict teamwork in a closed group which are knowing each other is only a subdispline of team work. It is used for simpler problems which can be solved by a small audience. More complex problems like a debate if Python or C++ is the better programming language should be discussed not in social networks but in broader online-communities with an unrestricted amount of group members. While very complex academic topics are connected to a very abstract form of teamwork called, preprint servers.

Let us compare a closed facebook group with a preprint repository like Arxiv. The similarity is that both are based on group work. A facebook group contains more then a single person, and Arxiv can be read / write also by many. Both are based on the idea of collaboration. The difference is, that Facebook groups are strict in relationship to which person is part of the group. The public is not able to read a Facebook group. Somebody can join the group only on request. Leaving the group is also difficult, this is interpreted mostly as a conflict between the individual and the group. In contrast, the Arxiv preprint server is more open. Reading and writing is allowed for much more people. Some kind of teamwork is possible, for example one author can reference to another author, but this interaction mode is very soft. Referencing a paper in the own work, doesn’t mean that both a sharing the same identity. Often a paper is cited because it contradicts the own opinion. Such kind of demarcation is only possible because the relationship between the individual and the group is different. Academic authors see themself as part of a larger group, called Gutenberg Galaxis, but this doesn’t mean that they work together. The ideas of a computer experts are very different from the habitus of a biology expert.

Preprint server have the tendency to group around topics, for example around software engineering. All paper about a topic are forming a cluster, that means they are using a similar vocabulary. In contrast, so called social networks like a closed facebook groups are formed around people. That means, the group members have something in common, they are for example students of the same year.

What is the difference between E-Mail, Facebook and a forum?

Most people are aware, that the communication channels cited in the heading have different pros and cons, but they are not able to say why they are not the same.It has to do with the amount of moderation. E-Mail is strong moderated, Facebook groups middle and a forum very low. Let us start with the forum. The normal web-forum contains of a flag mechanism to detect advertisement posted by bots. These messages will become deleted and other moderation is not taken place. The result is, that a forum feels anonym and open for the public.

Facebook groups are usually moderated. That means, the admins are not only deleting spam, but they are also part of the discussion. This generates a base noise and helps the group to communicate efficient. E-Mails are some kind of private Facebook groups but with the maximum of moderation. This is done via restricting the number of persons who are following a E-Mail thread. While the normal Facebook group contains of 2000 members, an e-mail conservation in a company has less then 50 users, and for private e-mails the number is often 2 (one sender, one receiver).

The most surprising information is, that it is possible to transform a public forum into an e-mail like private forum. It is not a question of the forum software, but a question how much moderates are in the system. A high amount of moderations will transform the group into a private one, which makes it very easy to communicate with each other.

Let us define what privacy means. Sometimes it is explained from a technical side, for example that no one reads the e-mails apart from the legitimate receiver. But privacy has nothing to do with SSL encryption or a hardened Linux server. Privacy is the amount of group management which is taken by humans. That means, a public discussion can be very private if it is management carefully. From a technical point of view, the talk is streamed live into the internet and recorded in an archive, but for the users it feels like something they can trust.

Tribute to Facebook

Sometimes, Facebook is called a low quality website, because the content their is compared to Wikipedia and Google Scholar not written by experts. The strength of Facebook is something different, it has democratized the creation of knowledge. The well known Wikipedia for example is written worldwide by not more then 10000 people, and the papers in Google Scholar were created by around 10 million researchers. Compared to the world population this is less then 0.2%. Even weblogs are written by a minority. In contrast, Facebook is written by everybody. Huge amount of people have made their first step in the Internet with Facebook, and they have posted for the first time in their life a comment in a public readable form. After submitting a message it can be seen by 7 billion people worldwide, it is online.

I’m not sure what the future of Facebook will be, but it was revolution in the past. Facebook has made the internet to a mainstream medium. In contrast to Wikipedia, or Blogs, Facebook is not only read by the people but they are creating content actively. Sometimes, Facebook is criticized because the old generation of people over 60 years become a user too. But that is an advantage. No other internet website before was able to motivate grandma for posting content. Not reading a comment but writing a text is the normal interaction with Facebook. It is an active medium, especially for people who are beginners.

The reason why the quality in Facebook is so low, has to do with the authors in Facebook. They are not an elite of technology experts but they are normal people. Most of them have never published a text before and Facebook is the first time in their biography they are writing something which can be read by the world. Personally, I’m not using Facebook very much. I’m preferring blogs, Wikipedia and Academia.edu for dropping content. But I see the point, why the people are using Facebook. It is the easiest form in making the first steps into the direction of becoming an author.

From the media perspective, Facebook can be called a microblogging service for a beginner authorship. If somebody did not understand how to post a comment in Facebook, he will probably never post a comment in the internet at all. It is a shared learning experience to become familiar with the internet and user generated content. Facebook makes it very easy to upload textual and visual information. It was designed from the beginning for a non-expert audience. This results on the first hand in low quality content but has an advantage that the number of people who are familiar with it is very high. If somebody is already an Facebook expert, he will learn in the next step how to use a blogging software or how to program in Python. Facebook is some kind of backchannel which motivates the people to use a computer actively.

Facebook is working great

A week ago, I logged again into my Facebook account and I must say, that the website works great. After pressing the login button, all the information was simply available, for example the timeline with the advertaisment, and all the funny images too. So i browsed to my group which is called “Artificial Intelligence” and checked out what they have done in the last month or so. And there was a huge traffic, the other members are posting lots of URLs to websites, and asking for comments for example about deeplearning. I gave on of the postings a plus 1 because it was really helpful and then i can log out. No friend requests, no spam, everything is fine. Overall I must say, that Facebook is the greatest invention ever. If we are comparing the website with other online-communities like Wikipedia or Stackoverflow, there is a battleground lots of unresolved problems and commercial advertisement, but Facebook is the heaven. +1 for Mark Zuckerberg.

P.S. The url is https://www.facebook.com/

Did Facebook spy on their users?

Naturally not, because the amount of data which the users has uploaded to the website is very small. It is interesting that especially users who have created an empty profile on Facebook and perhaps have 3 times pressed the like button are in fear, that Facebook knows everything about them. The story, that Facebook can spy his users is mostly told by media companies who are interested in making Facebook to a success because they have invested in lot of advertisement there. Let us examine in contrast some websites which are really spying their users: Stackoverflow, Academia.edu, Youtube, WordPress

All these website can be called an information collector, because they know in detail what my hobbies are and what I’m doing online. Connecting the information there to a personal profile would give a detail look about a person. The similarity is, that Facebook is not involved into the above website. A social network is something else.

But why is Facebook known as a intrusive spying website while other websites like WordPress, Youtube, Stackoverflow and so on not? That is indeed a bit funny. I believe what the users really want is to upload as much information they can. For example, the Stackoverflow community was created with the idea in mind, that traffic and a high posting frequency is desired. From a self-description, WordPress, Stackoverflow and all the other are not known as a social network which is creating a user profile. So we get the weird fact that Facebook is technically not spying his users, because they are not uploading content there, while non-Facebook website are creating an in-depth profile, but are not perceived as intrusive.

How a website is described, depends heavily on the story told by mainstream media. Facebook is known as intrusive, because the number of money which is directed to Facebook is high, while in contrast the other projects on the list are from the amount of money very little companies. For example, the Automatic company which is the driving force behind WordPress is not listed on the Nasdaq stockexchange. Instead it is listed in the Unicorn list which has promising startups in there, https://www.cbinsights.com/research-unicorn-companies Automatic has according to the list a value of 1 billion US$ which is on the same level like:

“Duo Security”

“LifeMiles”

“BrewDog”

Researchgate and Academia.edu are not in the list because they value is much smaller. But the number of information which can be extracted from a science paper is higher than a Facebook post of a person. At the end we can say, that the myth “Facebook is spying his users” is told by mainstream media and reflects the stockmarket price.

The main problem with Facebook is not that it spies to much but to little. Posting a video there is not interesting, posting blog-content there makes no sense and uploading a answer to a C++ question makes no sense, because Stackoverflow is the better website. If Facebook is able to aggregate all the information which are stored outside of Facebook into a user profil, then it would make sense. Because the personalized profil would give detailed information about what a person is doing online all the time. But that is not the case. Facebook is not connected with Youtube or Stackoverflow.

#joinfacebook

Facebook is great. The Wikipedia page counts around 36000 visits per day, https://tools.wmflabs.org/pageviews/?project=en.wikipedia.org&platform=all-access&agent=user&range=latest-20&pages=Facebook While Google has only 26000. On Facebook you can write blogs, connect with friends and chat. It is great way for communicating with people, and get the latest iinformation from around the world. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, which has an estimated net worth of US $72.5 billion, source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Zuckerberg