Speech-to-text: you can't handle the truth!

"Dude be ready" the text message said. Probably. I didn't send it or receive it, I was just sitting next to my wife as she spoke it.

She was using her Droid's speech-to-text capabilities to avoid having to type while she drove to pick someone up. Now the Droid is awesome, but I'm pretty sure the "OR ELSE" I heard in her tone of voice didn't make it into that text message.

Sigh. Yet another way to strip nonverbal cues from our communication.

Every time I see another example, I'm still amazed that the march of technological progress doesn't carry forward all the information content of the old technologies it supersedes. A brief list:
  • Music with lossy compression (flogged here)
  • Speaking face-to-face -> telephone -> text -> speech-to-text
  • Cameras with fixed focus and tiny lenses
Each new technology is more convenient than the last, or makes inroads into new applications. But if computers were like this, your new Windows 7 box wouldn't recognize thumb drives because, hey, you've got online storage now.

Maybe we don't want the details: the closed posture, the reddening complexion, the tightening voice. The kick drum behind the vocalist. The beginnings of a dry brown edge on a flower petal. Maybe we'd say if it doesn't fit on one side of a sheet of paper in doublespaced Courier 12, it hasn't been edited enough yet. Maybe we want plausible deniability. The opportunity to be inhumane through ignorance.

You can't handle the truth! A fleck of spittle lands on Tom Cruise's cheek. Jack Nicholson hasn't had a cigar yet today.

When networking isn't

A person's "network" is a collection of relationships that they maintain. Why, then, is it permissible to say you're "networking" when you have no intention of renewing the contacts you make?

I co-organize a blogging group and my wife co-organizes a wine tasting group. I meet a lot of new people every month. I *like* to meet new people. It's OK if I learn someone's name and occupation and then never see them again; my groups aren't for everyone. But if you come to an event and hand out your business card to everyone there, then a couple months later when nobody's heard from you I'm going to start thinking you came for the wrong reasons. That you came to promote yourself and not to take part.

Now don't get me wrong - it's OK to accidentally come to an event for the wrong reasons, but once there, you should recognize your mistake and adjust your approach. You don't create a positive personal brand when you drop business cards like propaganda pamphlets out of the back of a plane over enemy territory.

This is related to how permission marketing can be overused. But whereas that was about people who abuse my attention with a one-way firehose of marketing, this is about people who come to meetings--all kinds of meetings--with no intention of doing anything but broadcasting a single message. I'm convinced that some of these people scour the Internet for every public gathering where they might meet a couple dozen people in a free evening. People that may turn into leads, and if they don't, they don't matter. They are serial self-promoters.

Networking shouldn't be that way. When I check out a new group, I'm trying to see if there's a place for it in my life. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't. If I keep coming back, I don't even bother to call it networking, I just end up getting to know people. And that ... my friends ... is a network.

The ideal size of a conversation

Did you ever notice that some days you just seem to be rock-star funny and other days you struggle with awkward silences? I started wondering about that effect, and about the differences between the "Thinkers & Drinkers"(*) gatherings I go to and my blogger meetups. There are different dynamics in conversations of different sizes.

Two people: there is the potential for intimacy and trust, but it can be hard work keeping the conversation flowing. Things can be said between two people that can't be said in almost any other context. The flip side is that there are no witnesses, so either person can deny having said something if it gets repeated later.

Three or four: it's like having two people, but it gives one or two people an opportunity to think longer before speaking. In conversations of this size, this little delay can help me be very funny or very thoughtful.

Six to eight: everybody gets to hear everything and comment on everything; there are a variety of viewpoints but it remains one conversation. It can be quite thoughtful, but everyone has to take care to keep their comments brief and to the point. This size is where Thinkers & Drinkers works best, in my opinion.

Ten or more: the gathering breaks into more than one conversation. People occasionally move from one to the other, for example, if everyone is sitting at a long table, the people in the middle can talk to either side - but usually not both at once.

Twenty on up to over 100 people: everyone is free, indeed almost obligated, to wander from one conversation to the next. It becomes a cocktail party. Each conversation is 3-5 people if standing, or more if seated at large tables like at a wedding reception. You can have as funny or as thoughtful a conversation as you like, because there are plenty to step into.

What kinds of conversations do you want to have?

(*) 'Thinkers & drinkers' is an idea I adopted from George Nemeth, who used it as a format for some of our blogger meetups back in '08. Each person writes down a question--but not their name--and throws it in a hat. One by one they're pulled out and discussed. Wondering about its origins, I just Googled it. It seems to crop up in a variety of places (esp. Ohio for George's variant spelling "thinkrs & drinkrs") but it hasn't coalesced around a unifying theme, organization, or a home on the Web. I'm still not sure where it originated.

Blogging News

I learn some interesting stuff by reading the Blogger Buzz and Google Docs blogs. Here are three things that came down the pike recently.

August 31st will be the 11th birthday of the Blogger service, and they're throwing a worldwide celebration in conjunction with meetup.com. This works for me on so many levels. I use Blogger and I love the way it makes self-publishing easy for people with passion. I use Meetup and advocate for it every chance I get, because it helped me find friends after moving to a new town. And I co-organize a group of bloggers that meets every month and was on Meetup for seven years. Seven years is a long time for people to have been getting together to talk about the Internet, and eleven years is a REALLY long time for an Internet service to have been around. They're calling this celebration the Blogger Fiesta, and I'm organizing the Cleveland party. We haven't settled on a location yet, but I have some places in mind. I'm looking forward to bringing my Erie Moose friends together with other Blogger users all over town!

Blogger made a huge step forward this week with an improved comment handling system. As I noted over at the Erie Moose site, comment spam was hard to deal with under the old system. Be patient if you don't yet see the new "Comments" tab on your Blogger dashboard; they're switching users over one batch at a time.

Lastly, I just heard about the Google Moderator service completely by accident on the Google Docs blog. Google Moderator is a sort of polling/voting/questioning system for audience participation. I decided to try using it to collect feedback on places for our blogger group to meet. Here's the resulting poll. I've put up five suggestions for locations; you can vote them up or down, or suggest your own. This service feels a little bit beta right now (why can't I get an RSS feed of votes and suggestions?) but it's easy and it seems to work. Thanks Google!