The internets be stealin mah bukkits

So, I have to go out and and admit before blog and everybody, that I, Jason Adam Young am a social networking hypocrite.

I’m a theoretically learned Computer Science graduate who cut his career teeth in that field colloquially known as “IT”, add to that I’m a classic introvert, and my career has guided me to that Systems Management part of IT.

So, what does that all mean? It means that I like buckets. Big ones, small ones, short ones, talls ones, green ones, mauve ones. I like them all. Ok, maybe not mauve. When it comes to computational and information problems, I love compartmentalizing things, categorizing things — finding the bucket to which it belongs (perhaps it’s part of that whole control mentality that “eye-tee” is endowed with).

Compartmentalizing computing problems is a pretty good strategy. But bucketizing information is not. Information is messy, chaotic, it wants to be free. It’s associative. Consider for a moment, human memory. It’s not like we have a file somewhere in our a brains where we somehow catalog all the spoons we’ve seen and can recall them every time we stop and think “spoon, wooden, 12 inches” But smell a little marinara sauce cooking on the stove, and you’ll hearken back to the 12 inch wooden spoon your Italian grandmother would chase you out of the kitchen with (no, I’m not Italian, nor was my grandmother, it’s an illustrative thing. I mean, really, there is no spoon).

There’s a lot of directions I can go with this, but let’s get back to the bucket. In February 2008 — I created a dedicated twitter account for system updates. I mean it seemed like a good a idea at the time. A little experiment that I helped self-justify with the idea that maybe I’d wire it up in some automated fashion to some systems service. Mainly it was just about separating the system stuff (“The Server is Down, the Server is Down, Auntie Em!”) from my own crazy phatic messages into a different bucket.

By all measures, it’s a minor (very minor) success, there’s people that will follow that extensionorgsys account in twitter, that don’‘t follow my twitter account. Ostensibly, I assume it’s because it’s easier to follow this abstract icon that posts messages about servers being down — that are nowhere near my verbosity level. Additionally perhaps there’s a certain amount of legitimacy associated with adapting the logo with a little green, and some drop shadow, and iphone glass effects and posting my work under a nom de plume. It seems a little more ‘official’ then having a head shot of Opie with a NCSU hat on his head and some random guy posting about the server.

I was fine with this bucket arrangement until it hit me last week that I was being a complete hypocrite. We have Yahoo! Answers-like application (only better) that we run that provides for routing questions from the public to Extension personnel in various locations and subject matter areas. And one of our groups is looking for “assignment to a queue” — only that, because we don’t have that queue-based assignment yet, one of my colleagues was proposing the use of a generic account to handle the role of the queue.

Which, honestly, is not really a bad use for the account until we can get the queue implemented, it’s not used for logins, it’s just used for routing. But I took a pretty adamant stance against enabling that generic account, with the concern being that we have to maintain accountability down to an individual. And that anonymous/generic accounts break the conditions that make social networks work. That is, that you are facilitating human-to-human contact.

Like, you know, using a generic account to bucket off my work as a system administrator. Um, er, yeah. Whoops.

This is a hard issue, really. There are successful “brand” twitter accounts. Think Zappos for example. Or SouthWest Airlines — which Kevin Gamble wrote about today. The extensionorgsys account helps to build the eXtension brand. It’s a very open and very transparent conduit for talking about the state of our system. And it both builds and benefits from the brand, it has some authoritative power that I don’t have as much just being “jasonadamyoung”. It’s a real human being — namely me — that’s sitting behind it. For that one small part of our organization, I have been the decision maker, the marketer, and its voice. Which is why it’s named ‘extensionorgsys’ — I have been systems, but I’m just a part of the overall picture (that’s changing as we grow, and add other voices like Daniel’s to the mix) And it doesn’t take but a few clicks to really figure that out. But still it’s not social. It’s broadcast. It’s not following its followers. It’s not interacting. It’s not a conversation.

Is that okay? Is there a need for a simple, just-the-facts, output. “The FAQ server is up” “The news server is down” — and you use it to point toward that jasonadamyoung guy for the more phatic messages: “Argh, blankety-blank-$&*%$! software updates again” Maybe, sometimes, you need just the facts.

But, I’m not so sure that facts and phatic really shouldn’t be mixed — I mean really, the facts really only exist to empower conversation between two or more other people. And that’s really the expectation of today’s internet. Actually, it’s always been the expectation, it’s just finally dawning on people that they can use this technology thing to facilitate that contact beyond their village boundaries.

I don’t know what the end result will be for extensionorgsys. It still might be good to keep for the brand, and for the facts, and just step it up so that it’s more conversational. Or just dump it, and folks can follow me, or Daniel, or others on the eXtension staff to keep track of the state of the system (and more!). It’s time to have a real conversation about that.

But I do know one thing is for certain. For those of us classically trained in IT? Or any other field built on a foundation of compartmentalization and categorization?

We better learn to give up our buckets.