Riffability and MPO

Couple of quick terms for you to play with, and no apologies for butchering the English language, it likes it really.

Riffability – the potential for a resource or idea to generate quick modifications, for it to be riffed upon by others.

Riffability is one (but not the only) factor for how memes, ideas or social objects work. If something has a high riffability rating, then it means others will modify it, suggest alterations, or explore ideas around it. Not everything that spreads is riffable – some ideas/outputs are just perfect as they are and you just want to share. Others promote debate and discussion, but that's not the same as riffing.
A few examples: one of my Cardiff twitter contacts, Sianz, produces food/object based visual puns in twitpic. These are very riffable I think, and thus the photos themselves act as social objects around which others congregate.
The discussion I had (particularly with Andy) on metrics is an example of something that isn't riffing, it's debating (or just plain arguing). But had I couched the original post in the sense of 'here's some metrics I'd use', then it might have been more riffable, in that others could have pitched in with their suggestions. When Scott Leslie was preparing his Educator as DJ talk, it was a riff which some of us could work with.
So I think some ideas have more riffability than others, and you can pose your idea in a manner that has greater riffability. If your intention is to get input from others, then learning how to inject a bit of riffability may be a developing skill (when HR consultants offer courses on 'Improving Riffability' I'll know the term has made it).

MPO – Multiple Personality Order (as contrasted with Disorder). Following on from my last post, comments from Pete J and Jim G, questioned whether we only had one online personality and whether we weren't all a bit schizophrenic. I think they're right, my final conclusion that 'your academic identity = your online identity' was too simplistic. Your online academic identity will be a subset of your online identities. I follow a few people on twitter for instance who have a professional and a personal id (you know who you are). Sadly, their professional one is, well, a bit boring compared with their personal one. But I think this reiterates what I was trying to say in my talk on identity – we're still at the beginning of all this.
Increasingly people (particularly teenagers) will develop and cultivate multiple personalities online. This is an astute, and dexterous, thing to do. It allows them to have a pseudonym which might be the identity where they can mess about, swear, talk rubbish and connect only with trusted friends and like-minded people. At the same time they can have at least one other personality which is a more public facing one, which is closely allied to the real identity.
Of course, many people do this very well at the moment, and some environments (virtual worlds in particular) actively encourage a separation of 'real' identity and online one. My conjecture is that it will become the norm, and take place in more publicly social spaces. And it is likely people won't stop at two identities, but have many. When you add into this that people find you in different spaces and so may have one facet of your personality exaggerated (eg if you follow someone in LastFM but not twitter, you would have a different impression of them), then defining what exactly is 'your identity' becomes increasingly difficult.
But this is a good thing and just a natural adaptation (I'm not doing a Greenfield and arguing social networks will cause MPD). I've always found the sort of person who prides themselves on only having one aspect to their personality rather odd, those people who declare 'I'm me, take me or leave me, I call a spade a spade' etc. Being able to nuance your behaviour to a given environment (without being completely false) is a skill. And online, when stuff hangs around forever and can be spread globally in an instant, being adept at doing this will be increasingly significant.


  • Will Reader

    Interesting post Martin. This is very reminiscent of Erving Goffman’s work on the presentation of the self and the dramaturgical perspective (I seem to recall us sniggering through this at Hatfield thinking that it was all bleedin’ obvious). As well as potentially allowing for more ‘identities’ (I’ll explain the scare quotes later) social media can potentially serve to restrict your identity. If you have you family, university friends, rugby club mates and fellow bible-studies members following you on Twitter, which ‘face’ (to use Goffman’s term) do you present? By bringing people together you can restrict the range of selves that you present in any one realm.
    The scare quotes are that I *hate* the word ‘identity’ (they were normal quotes) because I don’t know what it means. It also assumes that we know ourselves, and there’s quite a bit of research showing that this is not the case.
    Keep it up.

  • Christian

    I’m not sure that you can measure what you call ‘riffability’ – after all, 10,000 people may fail to modify an idea, only for one person with a flash of insight to do something which subsequently seems *really obvious* with it.
    Also, when you talk about identities, it does seem like you could get rid of the words “online” or “academic”. After all, people have different identities as mums, CEOs, volunteers at charities, with their girl friends, or as wives – to name but a few. Whilst I believe that the principle certainly extends to online, I don’t believe that the online identity has any radical differences, compared to the differences between other identities.

  • Martin

    @Will – I think it is that fear of restriction that will lead to deliberately delineated identities. Agree about the term – it’s a ‘jazz up that I’m saying the bleeding obvious’ term, but at the same time it does seem to me to be what it’s about. I don’t think people necessarily set out to create a particular identity, but rather it becomes emergent from their multiple activity on different sites.
    @Christian – I wasn’t seriously proposing a ‘riffability quotient’ or anything, just suggesting riffability might be a characteristic of how ideas spread online.
    Re identity – yes, I agree that we have multiple facets to our identities in real space (that’s what I meant by I find people strange who boast at not having these). But I think online _is_ different because in real space those identities are separated by physical space – you may be a different person with your gran and your rugby mates, but the two are unlikely to be in the same space together, so separation is easy. Online everyone can see every facet of you. So, you have to deliberately create the separation that occurs ‘naturally’ in real space.

  • Christian

    It would definitely be interesting to look into the identity thing further. After all, you are to some degree separated by interest on the internet – I may be wildlife photography fanatic on flickr, book enthusiast on vox, someone quite close to a professional persona on LinkedIn, and the me which most of my friends know on Facebook – because that’s who I mostly interact with. I think it’s possible that we do separate ourselves in cyberspace, but I’m not sure that it’s a wholly conscious decision – it’s just the way it all pans out.

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