Friday, October 19, 2007

Clay Shirky on online miscommunication

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, writes:

Can we do anything to prevent or reduce these kinds of miscommunications? I recently posed this question to Clay Shirky, a professor of social computing at New York University and someone who has given this problem a lot of thought. Shirky emphasizes that, for starters, we shouldn't make the mistake of seeing online communication as a replacement for face–to–face contact. "Social software is not better than face–to–face contact—it's only better than nothing," he says. "I think everyone has had the experience of emailing back and forth with someone—whether it's a new friend or someone you meet online or someone in your business—then meeting that person in person. Afterwards, the email takes on a very different tone."

Shirky also suggests ways to respond to "flamer" situations, especially where a flamer is a complete stranger who you'll never meet in person. For instance, he notes that flaming is much more severe in online groups than it is in two–person exchanges. So users often find that they can defuse flamers by contacting them directly. "When you take them out of the social part of the conversation, where they're performing in front of an audience, and address them as an individual, they become much less prone to name–calling and vituperation," he says.