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who really owns a social network?

when we moved into our neighborhood, my wife decided to rally some troops and organized some women around the 'hood for various reasons.  she started a babysitting co-op where the currency is popsicle sticks and communication is done via a yahoo group.  you need a babysitter for 2 kids for 3 hours?  send a note to the group and within hours (usually minutes) you'll have someone willing to take you up on it...that will be 6 sticks please.  it has worked out great and is totally self-sustaining.  the neighborhood has virtually free babysitting for those times you need it during the day, etc.

she also started another group for simple social networking..."friends" they call it.  it has grown to over 120 people in our little community.  my wife started it and is the owner of the yahoo group.  people know to go to her to get on it or contact her to recommend people to be on it.  not that she's a control freak (i don't think), but she just was the default originator of the idea and hence the defacto owner.

recently, the group is growing and faceless "friends" are engaging in conversations.  i'm not on the list, but i know it has been helpful in the community identifying safety concerns, finding recommended repair services, organizing parent play groups, etc.  even at times people have sold their belongings through the list.  and therin starts the rub.  until everyone has snopeit installed on their machines, people will undoubtedly forward spam.  spam from "friends" is even worse.  it creates that sense of weirdness in your belly about how to react to it.  do you send the person a note?  or do you just delete it?  (i just delete.)  my wife's group started getting spam.  people complained to her and there may have been this expectation to fix it.  they sought her guidance to fix it.  pleaded to send a note to the group.  she did.  she "suggested" some guidelines regarding spam.  it seemed to work, people apologized and the spam has subsided.  it is now a part of the signup process (i think the disclaimer/guidelines is now a few paragraphs :-)).

now the problem has been sale items.  i think everyone appreciates the opportunity to know about a great handyman (service) who is inexpensive and does great work, or a plasma tv (product) that someone doesn't want anymore and is letting go for a few hundred bucks.  but does the same level of excitement exist for a toy tonka truck that has been used and sitting in the kids toy closet for the past year?  apparently not.  these "garage sale" items have become a new sore spot with the network...and again, my wife is sought out for fixing it.  she quickly suggested "sale item saturday" where people would post one (1) message on saturday listing their items for sale.  everyone agreed.

saturday came.  someone sent a message (this being the same person that caused some concern to begin with).  no responses.  sunday came.  no responses.  monday came and that person posted that the saturday thing didn't work and she wasn't selling her stuff fast enough.  so tuesday came and a post for a costumer for $12 was sent.  oh the flurry of emails to my wife.  fix it again, they asked.  she asked my counsel.  i asked her to differentiate the scenario of the handyman, tv, and costume for me.  she couldn't other than she *thinks* that the complaints stem from people not wanting "crap" but they are willing to filter through the "good stuff."  i told her to ignore it and other people would.  like most times, she didn't listen to my advice.  she posted a reply to the individual (and to the group) restating the purpose for sale saturday messages and that the goal was not to clog peoples' inboxes.  she made an intented-to-be humoristic jab that the list was not a virtual garage sale and to use ebay/craigslist for that purpose.  well, that person hasn't posted since (i told her i think she's cursing my wife in her home).  she asked about starting another group for sale items.  i told her that was a bad idea...then where do you draw the line.  i had similar discussions with the organizers of AZGroups when the lists started diverging and now there are i think 5 or so you can choose from.  for me it is easier to just delete if i don't want it, but that's just me i guess.

my wife was frustrated because people weren't willing to vocalize their opinion (btw, they all praised her privately for her gestures) and wanted someone to "own" the problem to fix.  i don't think my wife wants to be the sole owner of this, but again, she became the defacto owner.  it's been an interesting time seeing her be a part of these social networks.  she's a yahoo group wizard now...she moderates, rejects, etc. like the best of them.  it has been amazing seeing her leverage technology more in her life without me prodding.  she consistently checks her email now (about 2 years ago she checked it once a month), she has 3 yahoo groups she manages.  she's all about the online ticket systems, etc.  just the other day she organized the internet groups together to capitalize on bulk order pricing and got 30 cases of peaches/pears (all we wanted was a half a box).

anyhow, i think my point here (if there was one -- i'm writing this on a plane to kill time and not think about the 2 hours left) is that if you start a social network, it is yours...regardless of what anyone says and unless there is a coup, you own it.  it blossoms because of your efforts and dies because of your lack of care...don't think it doesn't.  for my wife, hers have blossomed and that is a result of her as well as the community coming together and really proving value in the networks.

some of my friends joked that the "friends" list was getting too anonymous and that they should start a new group "actual friends" :-)

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i've been playing around with some voice recognition stuff and decided as a test i'd leave my phone on voice announce for a few days to see what it does.  this has helped me learn a bit more about windows mobile 5.0 features, laugh a lot, and learn how voice command/text-to-speech determines certain things.

i'm reminded of the onion's hilarous radio bit about "voice-activated gps system takes top gun soundtrack fan into the danger zone." here it is:

powered by ODEO

pretty funny (at least to me).

here's just some dump of what my experience has been so far with my mobile device..

  • i work in the "desert mountain" district and we use DM as an abbreviation -- so my meeting reminder announced that i had a "west region deutsch mark marketing meeting"
  • windows mobile 5 default announces email subjects that are marked urgent -- that was cool
  • acronyms and abbreviations will never get it right: ASP.NET was recognized as "ASP" (as in asp-en), so it just didn't sound right...maybe there should be an option to announce all caps by letter rather than attempting to make a word out of it?

i also started looking at voice recognition in vista.  it is built-in and pretty interesting.  when you start it up you get a fob at the top of the screen:


when you say "start listening" guess what...it starts listening.  i can then say "start, outlook, new message, to, t-i-m..." you get the picture.  it worked remarkably well (i don't have a benchmark i should admit because i've not used - or had the need to - speech recognition before.  when i don't want it to listen anymore i say "stop listening" and it stops.

i thought it was cool so i started to show my wife.  i had a word doc opened and started speaking...

  • "i love you lisa" result: i love you leaf
  • "you have a sexy body" result: you have a sexy David

okay, so it needs work :-) -- i think that is because i didn't go through any training exercises that it asked me too -- that and my microphone sucked.  at least that's how i'm justifying it since i don't think david is sexy.  it reminded me of when we bought a popular luxury car (which is subsequently sold after 4 months) that had voice activated navigation.  it sucked.  bad.  i would say "call 555-1234" to dial a number and it would repeat "showing post offices."  the only thing that worked well was telling it the temperature you wanted your air to be.  "find gas stations" resulted one time in "nearby chinese restaurants" -- man it made me angry.

at any rate, check it out if you have vista rc1 installed.

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well, i decided to play around a bit with the new visual studio tools for office second edition that was released today.  a while back (actually at before the microsoft mvp summit), i was talking with richard Hundhausen about some ideas to code about -- he needed a good one.  he came up with the idea of an outlook add-in for those people who keep thinking that bill gates will send you $5 if you forward the email to 11 of your friends.

an add-in that would simply scour snopes.com to see if it is a hoax.  i decided to embark on that task to see the new vsto tools.  it was amazingly simple to do and implement a custom ribbon ui add-in:


so i created "SnopeIt" (props to billwil for the mneumonic name).  when you open an email message, you'll be able to click on the Snopes icon:


and it will launch snopes.com with the search results.  i emailed the snopes contact info to see if they have any type of web service to be able to give a better user experience within outlook and play around with the form regions in vsto as well...we'll see -- but it's a work in progress.

i'm really impressed with the vsto tools and ease of implementation!

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sweet...the update to visual studio tools for office (vsto) has been updated and released!  just updated on the office developer center, is released in beta form.

this represents an opportunity for visual studio 2005 developers to do some development on the office 2007 platform now much easier.  what is great is the vsto team also created a tutorial to walk through some examples.  granted the examples are very simple, but it gives you an idea of how to leverage things like add-ins, task panes, integrating with the ribbon UI.  it's 58 pages of goodness to get you jumpstarted.  get the bits and tutorial now!

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my favorite pdf reader had a new release a few days ago, get foxit reader 2.0! (with an installer finally).  for those that don't know anything about this reader, it will make you wonder what the heck adobe acrobat reader actually does with all that space -- foxit is lean and mean...and free.