What is real?

One of the (many) interesting cohort lunch conversations I took part in during my recent Masters residency revolved around how we would all maintain the sense of connectedness with each other once the two week face to face residency was over. For the next year, all our interactions will be virtual. More than a few people viewed this as a significant challenge and expressed the view that somehow a virtual relationship didn’t seem as “real” as face to face.

It’s a concern I’ve heard before. How can online relationships have the same level of depth as face to face? Well, in my experience, they are as rich and, in fact, often even richer than some face to face relationships. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in “virtual ” relationships, so much so that the line between virtual and real is nonexistent for me. Following friends online is an extension of my face to face relationship that adds richness and context to those face to face relationships, but in some cases, the online link I have to someone is the only link that connects us. Yes, I have friends that I have never met, and I still come across people who find the idea of having friends you have never met strange, especially when you begin to explain to them that most of the connections are via Twitter, Facebook and other “superficial” social network tools. How much can you know someone in 140 characters or via status updates? Well, quite a bit, actually.

The reality is that over time, this little trickle of information becomes an ocean. A Twitter update on its own is not much. But a thousand Twitter updates over a year? That’s 140,000 characters. A novel. Add in a Facebook status there, a blog post, a Flickr photo, a shared link in Delicious, a favorite YouTube video, a shared song on Blip.fm – it doesn’t take too long to form a pretty solid understanding of a person you have never “met”. All this information, in drips and drabs, comes together to form a whole and give me a sense of who the person is in a very real and tangible way.

It’s not like I live in the basement spending hours banging away on my computer chatting with complete strangers, but the reality is that I carry on many relationships with people I have never met that are just as rich and rewarding as my face to face relationships.

I guess what I am trying to stumble onto here is that this is not an either/or situation. One is not better than the other because in my world that “other” has all but disappeared. They are all just relationships.

A few days ago, I came across this blog post on Wes Fryer’s blog Moving at the Speed of Creativity with a great video that speaks to this question of real vs. virtual. It’s a 7 minute micro-doc put together by Dan Lovejoy, a graduate student in the Technical Communication and Rhetoric program at Texas Tech University.

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I've added Facebook Connect and Twitter login

I have been using Intense Debate as a comment system for a few months now on this blog and, after a few initial hiccups, have been happy with the system. I like the threaded comments and the ability to reply to comments via email without having to log in to my blog. And Intense Debate makes it easy for users to comment using video (which I have activated, but have yet to see an example of from readers).

But above all, I think comment systems do a better job in helping foster a sense of community in a blog. It makes it easier for me to keep track of repeat visitors and commentators, which helps me develop relationships with people who take the time and effort to post a comment.

To help with this last point, I have activated a couple of new Intense Debate options that might make it easier for people to leave comments.

You now have a number of options as to what “identity” you want to use when leaving a comment on the blog. You can do so anonymously as a guest, enter in a name & email address, sign in using an existing Intense Debate account or an OpenID account and now sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account.

What this means is that when you leave a comment using either Facebook or your Twitter account, the link back from your comment will go to either your public Facebook profile or your Twitter page. I am also hoping that it will make it easier for you to share content from the blog on either Facebook and Twitter, but at the moment I am still figuring out exactly how that part works. Still a work in progress…

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Change usernames in your Delicious network

Delicious was the first of the current breed of Web 2.0 social networks I signed up for. In retrospect, I wish it was one of the last because one of the things I didn’t quite realize then that I fully get now is that in order for these social tools to work their magic, you have to be found. And that means your name.

My Delicious name is the very unfortunate WindTech. At the time, I was heavy into freelance work with my own company, called Wind (which had nothing to do with weather, but that is another story), hence the WindTech.

Well, Wind has come and gone, but unfortunately the name WindTech has stuck on my Delicious account. I wish I could simply change it, but in Delicious, you cannot change your username. I would have to delete my account and create a new one, but that means rebuilding my network. The name doesn’t bug me that much.

But even though I cannot change my name, you can if I am in your network. A tweet from Delicious a few days ago let me know that you can now change the display names of people in your network. So, while I cannot change WindTech to Clint Lalonde, if you are in my delicious network at least you can so I appear as a real person as opposed to some semi-corporate entity in your network.

Since then I have learned the authenticity lesson of social networking – be yourself. So now when I sign up for a social network I am now me – Clint Lalonde.

Er, except on Last.fm where I am MondoCanuck. That was social network #2.

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