I recently attended the Webvisions conference in Portland, Oregon. Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Douglas Rushkoff were a few of the well-known speakers. Many of the sessions were led by developers who were working with cutting-edge web technologies. Some of the main themes I heard at the conference were as follows:
HTML5, CS3, and JQuery
Digital ethnography, especially as it relates to user interface (UX) and mobility
Many of the sessions, including Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ talk focused on user interface and understanding user preference and technology usage on a contextualized level. Kelly Goto and Rachel Hinman were all-star UX proponents and offered numerous ideas for moving beyond analytics and demographics to how individuals use technology at various times of the day. It appears many companies have moved beyond seeking a “sticky” site to one that is addictive. And so, branding and product design were related to sensory activity (especially tacticle) and emotional connection. Hinman’s discussion about the new ecology of untethered mobile devices and how mobile devices can “unlock” place was inspiring.
Vision for future (the ecology of new devices)
Rachel Hinman and Douglas Rushkoff covered a large swathe of ideas related to future technology trends. Much of Rushkoff’s talk focused on corporate interests versus individual interests and how technology is being used to subvert individuality and free thinking by corporate interests. One of his more memorable claims was that Facebook’s product was not the software, but the child—more specifically, the child’s social graph that can be monetized. He suggested Portland was “our last hope”–whatever that meant…and, he believed technology is most effective in the hands of the youth and “stoners”–not sure he was trying to directly correlate a location with this claim…but, the two were said at various points of his talk. While some of this was tongue in cheek banter, his main goal was to encourage the individual user of technology to be more efficacious and aware of the underlying technologies enabling our daily usage of software and devices. Without such awareness and discretion, he believed that we would be beholden to corporate interests and those who would use technology to slowly devalue individual rights. He said so much more, but the core of his talk reminded me of some of Sherry Turkle’s writings.
When Rushkoff heard one of my colleagues worked with Blackboard, he seemed a bit disappointed, but then signed his book with the following, “Blackboard is intentional”—great sense of humor.
Hinman recommended several articles. I found the following very enlightening (The Coming Zombie Apocalypse).
I’ve had several recent discussions with colleagues about whether one’s blogging actually influences others in meaningful ways. And we’re not just talking about page views, comments, and pingbacks. Over the last several years of blogging, I’ve searched for articles or studies that examine blogging from a more rigorous social science perspective and have found very little. A group of us presented on the topic a year ago at a conference and shared some lessons learned.
There is of course a sizable amount of advice, like the Slideshare presentation referenced above, that covers blogging guidelines, how to convert readers into customers (marketing), understanding analytics (number of visitors, length of visit, etc.); but in terms of a more traditional longitudinal study that captures a group’s changed behavior over time, very little. I’ve been asking myself why this is the case while sporadically scanning the web for something new on the topic. My primary goal for this post is to generate some discussion. I don’t pretend to have the answers yet, just informed questions.
(1) Should blogging be viewed as a discrete activity with predictable input and output?
The most obvious challenge presents itself when simply trying to define blogging. For example, does micro-blogging justify inclusion (Twitter, etc.)? What is the difference between a webpage and a blog? How often does a blog require update for it to be a blog and do academic requirements apply if the hoped for output is scholarship? Even if we agree on a definition today, technology advances will quickly unravel our current conventions and approach.
There are some other challenges related to definition. While a sizable scholarship discusses the physiological and cognitive processes underlying the act of reading and writing, blogging is a different animal. Blogging is physiological and cognitive, but occurs within a more complex cultural web of competing influences. In many ways, blogging demonstrates some of the original objectives of the printing press in exaggerated fashion: mass distribution and democratization of knowledge creation. Consequently, some of the more interesting discussions about blogging situate blogging against the larger and interconnected world of social media and personal knowledge creation and management (see Harold Jarche’s blog). While there are some interesting domain-specific discussions on how blogging impacts a discipline or industry (or more recently a country’s form of government), the social dimension of blogging must also explain how blogging contributes to the individual’s connection to the online community network that is the Internet. And that’s just for starters.
So, even the most informed current descriptive framework is at best a crude working model when applied to tomorrow’s usage. As mentioned, blogging in its current form happens across a spectrum of cognitive processes (reading, writing, scanning, categorizing), media, cultures, and conventions. Studying something this broad in scope is an obvious challenge.
(2) Is blogging really “epiphenomenal”?
Lawrence Solum wrote an interesting article entitled “Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship” (2006). It’s dense and the conclusions reached are based on anecdote and personal impression. However, Solum makes some important points. First, he suggests that blogging is “epiphenomenal,” or basically several layers removed from the more important underlying influences. He also suggests that the value of blogging can be reduced to three main transitions or paradigm shifts: the long form to short form, exclusive rights to open access, and mediation to disintermediation. Some of his rationale is specific to legal scholarship, but I find much of his reasoning applies to all forms of blogging, especially academic blogging.
He has much more to say, but he summarizes his paper with the following thoughts:
I have argued for the proposition that blogs are symptoms of the larger forces at work in the world of legal scholarship. The importance of blogs, if any, is as the medium (or technology) through which the incentives and institutional forces that are pushing legal scholarship toward the short form, open access, and disintermediation are doing their work. If it had not been blogs, it would have been something else. If someone invents a medium that provides a more effective or less costly mechanism through which the forces can operate, then blogs will recede and that medium will take their place. It’s not about the blogging…. But I do have an opinion: blogs will play only a modest supporting role in the future of legal scholarship. Scholarship is about ‘papers,’ not ‘posts.’
Imagine the early beneficiaries of the printing press holding their Gutenberg Bible in one hand and a list of printing press 2.0 features in the other. Our culture today participates in defining new technologies in ways that are unimaginable several hundred years ago but the inclusion of rapidly changing technologies make these waters both deep and opaque, especially if we are looking for predictive models that cut across industries, blog objectives, and fluctuating cultural influences.
(3) Is the “Long Tail” better than no tail?
The concept of the long tail is an important concept in understanding how blog impact can be measured relative to other communication approaches. Truth be told, I only find a tiny fraction of existing blogs worth following—perhaps 5-10 total. Sure, I peruse a longer list sporadically, but time is precious and I’m very picky about my syndicated reading activities. Thankfully, many online micro-communities are much larger than the local “macro” communities I rub shoulders with in my locale. So, even though my online audience may seem small compared to the total online community, I’m usually reaching a much larger audience (albeit more superficially) using blogging technology than I could ever reach using most other communication technologies—and, with a minimal ongoing effort. The “ROI” equation generally comes down favorably from this perspective and as mentioned, the Internet is filled with these types of testimonials.
(4) Is blogging truly equitable? Blogging nobility and the techno-peasants
While blogging is often described as a “leveling” communication technology, I’m convinced that there are clearly the “haves” and “have-nots” in terms of audience size. So, is it fair to say that the blogging nobility generally attract tremendous traffic and the rest of us find our place on the long tail? If so, how does one push through the strata and become blogging nobility? More importantly, is this even advisable? I’ve read books like “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk, but they often strike me as 8 parts reality TV and 2 parts substance. No disrespect to Gary as his efforts are laudable, but I struggle with leaning on examples that sell the process along with the product and rely primarily on personal branding. This approach excludes a vast number of bloggers in various institutional contexts who must be very careful about pushing their own personal brand alongside their university, company, or organizational branding.
While there are indeed some helpful tips in books like “Crush It,” I’ve found that common to all of these stories is that blogging superstars spend a tremendous amount of time “feeding the machine.” At some point, they have become “full-time” bloggers who build personal brand through a practiced Zen-like coordination of relationship building activity (much of which has nothing to do with a blog per se): conferences, guest writing, coalition building, workshop hosting, etc. There also seems to be a certain quelque chose that is often captured in their online persona and commitment to, or knowledge of a topic that attracts others. Blogging simply makes their voice more accessible to an already interested population. Nevertheless, how do they keep an audience’s interest over time and grow that audience?
In the same way that an alumni office or insurance company depends on the health of their personal network, blogging heavyweights who outlast a single post of viral interest seem to have found the balance between the high time commitment their social media channels demand and their business or financial requirements. In short, they figure out how to make the commitment work for them. For the already famous, blogging is an extension of already established reputation (think of following Bill Gates via Twitter), but for the handful of bloggers who have made blogging their living or have entered the rarified air of the blogging elite, it would be fascinating to know whether any common principles can be derived between different domains, i.e. academic, business, political.
So, in the spirit of a level playing field that pulls in diverse viewpoints, I would like to hear your thoughts on these topics. I will also welcome some guest writers to the blog over the next month and ask for their opinions, especially around the questions asked in my post.
What would the ideal study or article examine if it were to adequately define this question of “do blogs change lives” and how can we measure our impact beyond statistics and comments?
How often and by how much does the “long tail” exceed the reach of our local audience? Is this justification enough for our blogging effort?
What principles or common approaches jettison some into the blogging nobility? Like Jim Collin’s profile study of successful CEOs, “Good to Great,” or the recent case study of the New York Times Interactive News Technology department, what do blogging superstars have in common and how do we measure our ROI relative to our career objectives?
I would particularly welcome a guest post from someone outside of academia. Please let me know if you’re interested.
I enjoyed Mark’s last post “The Art of Disconnecting” about moderating technology usage. The timing couldn’t have been better. I recently added a 3rd arrow to my quiver and have been enjoying watching my baby girl discover her fingers, cheeks, and anything else in reaching distance. During my initial time with her, I can only say that I’ve never been more unproductive as we spent hour after hour being in the moment and getting to know each other.
And so, Mark’s last post about the need to disconnect resonated with me deeply. I enjoyed watching Mark in my mind’s eye being broadsided by some kind of elevated machinery as he was simultaneously struck by a thought: “That it is worthwhile to try to figure out the appropriate balance between being connected and being disconnected, that there is power and integrity in being able to personally manage the fine line between too much online life and too little.” And so the machinery in my mind spun a bit as I thought about my colleague spending time with family, disconnecting, and being struck by some kind of swinging metal as he attempted to remove himself from the grid that is our new world.
Over the holiday period, I read several autobiographies. Tony Dungy is a man of great integrity who maintained balance and focus on family in the pursuit of excellence—while winning a super bowl as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I ventured over to Abraham Lincoln and dabbled in some Mother Theresa. Each one reminded me that life is a gift to be lived in the moment and that our values need to define the rhythm that is our identity and ultimately bring balance to how we use technology in both the workplace and at home. Perhaps a little deep for a technology blog, but technology at its core is about life improvement and it’s important every now and then to step back, duck, and see the trees and the forest.
While Mark found focus in William Power’s book, I kept thinking about wisdom literature I read often and the term “discretion.” Merriam-Webster offers the following definition:
The quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment.
In short, it describes one’s ability to exercise common sense without external pressure or influence. And so, perhaps the antidote to the hyper-connected zeitgeist of our time is “discretion”—knowing how and when to use technology without having someone define this for you. Although it is perhaps a term that has fallen out of our vernacular, the concept is more important now than ever as we upgrade our latest smartphones, leverage the latest productivity software, and plug in to the newest must-have authoring tools.
From my small corner of the world, I can only say that there are numerous activities that will always remain analog and organic—skiing on fresh powder, watching morning light bounce off nearby hills, and of course, holding a baby in one’s arms.
Do you have the impulse to check your email or social network updates when you get up, throughout the day, between tasks, as an interruption in the middle of a task, in the evening, in the middle of the night, anytime? There might be a message you are interested in or something you “need” to respond to …
Not everyone suffers from the same intensity of message-checking addiction, but it is not hard to see it in our culture—look at the people staring and poking at their devices as they walk down the sidewalk or sit in a meeting.
As I left work for this holiday break, I thought to myself, I should turn off the automatic email notifications on my smart phone. This is a time when I don’t need to know there is a new message. I need a break. So as I walked down the sidewalk away from the office, I pulled out my phone and began to change the settings. This will help me be in the present, be aware of my surroundings, I thought. Then all of a sudden I experienced a crack to my head and I fell to the ground. I looked up and saw that I had walked straight into a piece of construction machinery.
This experience followed a number of conversations I had over the past few weeks that seemed to indicate a growing awareness among my colleagues that one can be “too connected,” that it is worthwhile to try to figure out the appropriate balance between being connected and being disconnected, that there is power and integrity in being able to personally manage the fine line between too much online life and too little.
By serendipity, on my holiday travels I read a book I’d been meaning to read, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers, a former Washington Post reporter. Powers is not a luddite or reactionary to technology. Instead, he offers a rich, long-term perspective on how humans have benefited both by connecting using technology and by disconnecting in a variety of ways throughout history.
The book is a helpful guide in the search for a deep, meaningful life. Powers intelligently questions the current zeitgeist of “the more you connect, the better.”
He asks, why are we all so busy and yet spend so much time responding to electronic messages and tasks that don’t enrich our lives or add up to anything very important. He explores the seductive nature of “the screen” and offers ways to balance connected time with screen-free time. He provides examples from Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan in a context that is very relevant and helpful to our contemporary situation.
And with that I’ll get back to disconnecting so I can immerse in my own experience of the here and now. Or at least not walk into a piece of construction machinery. Happy holidays.
The Pew Research Center just released some statistics around mobile device location service usage. If you’re unfamiliar with “location service,” the basic idea is “I’m at this specific location, so show me information or allow me to do something on my smart phone relevant to this place.” According to the study, the percentage of online adults (18-29 years old) using “geosocial” or location-based services is still relatively low. About 7% of this group use location service sporadically, with about 4% using apps like Foursquare or Gowalla. The study seems to suggest daily usage of location service apps at about 1%. Interestingly, location service usage among Hispanics (10%) is higher than online whites (3%). 6% of online men use location-based services compared to 3% of online women.
The upshot of the study? These findings suggest place-based apps or services are still very much in their infancy. Case in point, look more closely at Tim Kring’s (creator of the Heroes TV show) recent Conspiracy for Good Project. It’s essentially a large place-based multimedia experience that leverages mobile phones location service and builds an emerging, interactive narrative around physical locations in London. Say again? In his own words,
We told a lot of story online and through mobile, publishing, and merchandising. Everywhere you could connect to an audience with the narrative, we were telling stories. This is taking that same idea and rolling it out, literally, into the streets. The exciting part is that the narrative lives all around you — on your mobile phone, on the internet, and starting on July 17, literally on the streets of London for three weeks.
In a slightly less ambitious nod to place-based service apps, many universities are exploiting students’ penchant for this type of “geosocial” activity (young, social, mobile). A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article shares a compelling example from Boston University.
Boston University’s Dean of Students Office designed a trek around a freshman-orientation fair in August that sent students to campus hangouts, libraries, and various academic-department booths. Students earned points by sending along pictures of themselves taking a dip in a college fountain, talking with counselors at the Career Development Office booth, and making tie-dyed T-shirts out on BU Beach, among other things. All pictures and completed tasks were posted on the event Web site, and the student with the highest number of points took home an iPad.
Foursquare and Gowalla have already won some followers and other “geosocial” or place-based apps are popping up. SCVNGR is notable in their attempt to blend place-based “check in” with challenges, user contribution and marketing (how about Oregami in a burrito shop with a virtual coupon tied to challenges?). The NY Times summarizes the approach as follows, “…location-based gaming platforms that allow visitors to explore the institutions in a gamelike fashion. The company was founded with the idea that mobile games could blur a line between digital interactivity and real-world interaction.”
Although in its infancy, the potential for educational and marketing organizations is promising. Pedagogically speaking, educational approaches like place-based learning provide helpful framework for imagining how this technology can support key objectives like promoting civic responsibility, awareness of environment, and maximally contextualized asynchronous learning. As the technology improves, I can imagine dollars being shuffled rapidly into this domain as more providers determine how to integrate place-based features into their marketing, app, game, or in some cases, large-scale interactive multimedia narrative. For those of us in the educational market, the opportunities are limitless.
As a communicator whose occupational focus is educational, I often find the social media landscape both exhilarating and downright annoying. Truth be told, the never-ending stream of articles, presentations, and books that focus on social media more often than not fall into the “annoying” category. Too many of these resources lack real-world examples that include an instructional or educational component and yet they often purport to convey methods or approaches that work outside of their specific domain.
For many, the sweet spot of social media is marketing. I don’t necessarily disagree. Marketing is extremely important to any organization, but social media need not always be constrained or driven by a marketing objective. How often have you run across this basic social media message: “Product X or Group Y is über cool and you need to act in some way if you want to join the campaign or affiliate”? Or, “I wasn’t generating a lot of revenue using traditional marketing, but with social media I turned my ‘Whuffie’ into serious waffles.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach and social media can indeed be a powerful marketing tool that helps individuals feel connected with a brand, organization or other individuals. What’s more, brand management and connection with educational consumers is particularly big business and the likes of the Gates’ Foundation, Cisco and many other big players have been parked on this block for some time; looking to grow market share, influence policy, and improve the educational experience in a more equitable fashion.
But utilizing social media for educational outreach or research activities in state-funded organizations? Over the last few years, I’ve seen numerous examples of social media working well within learning contexts here at our university (and others), but have not come across a cohesive vision that informs the practice. Is Cooperative Extension too rooted in face-to-face outreach to augment their communication efforts with social media? In fact, Extension groups are perfectly primed to leverage this form of communication based on their core goals and focus on meeting community-based needs.
A recent eXtension talk by Lee Rainey of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project unpacks this notion in brilliant detail. While the practices driving social media usage are still emerging in tandem with the evolution of the tools themselves, Rainie’s talk helped me envision a time when social media will indeed become a part of the university’s research and outreach effort and a crucial part of how it does educational business. Paired with Harold Jarche’s discussion on the historical psychology of communication (and its predictable shifts), I can only say that I was inspired. I’ve been following Harold Jarche’s blog for a few years now and have found his dialog around managing information (TMI—too much information) and network participation crucial to understanding the theory behind social media practice. Those working in large organizations where technology adoption occurs more slowly would benefit from these two presentations.
A university is in many ways an independent and relatively manageable entity, but what about an entire country that seems to push back on the use of social media, or a government?
GCN or Government Computer News provided numerous recent examples of how the U.S. Federal Government is using social media to build more transparency and efficiency into its communication practices while a Harvard Business Review article tackles the issue of social media adoption in France. Both resources document real-world examples of how social media can be used in a “blended” environment where a sizable portion of end users are still entrenched in traditional communication modes.
Tidbits of wisdom for social media as dictated by the stars, planetary alignment, moon phases, and other Earth-bound sources*.
Taurus: April 20-May 20. Not a good day to be boring. Express yourself today about what you know, and do it with passion. Don’t think of the facts, but instead think “story”. It’s the most powerful media. And follow your bliss today. It’s infectious.
Gemini: May 21-June 21. Try not to “push” your content today: celestial bodies indicate that we are in a “pull” market.
Cancer: June 22-July 22. Passing along other’s wisdom is something that is best used in moderation. The planets are concerned that you might overuse hashtagging when you are orbiting in the Twittersphere.
Virgo: August 23-September 22. Be authentic and put your attitude in your stories. Romance–well, let’s say more effective relationships with your audience– will follow! It’s a good time to make new friends, and to expand socially.
Libra: September 23-October 23. You are a major trailblazer today, so get out there and create great content that will bring the eyes of the world to your website. Your audacious spirit can make a big difference for you.
Scorpio: October 24-November 21. Today looks auspicious for inserting yourself into other people’s online conversations. Build bridges and contacts by being heard regularly. It’s a good time to show off your connectedness and reach for your potential.
Sagittarius: November 22-December 21. Express your essence through your blog today, and know that you will be ushering new contacts to your website. Remember that Twitter and Facebook will work to your advantage to bring new relationships to your blog.
Capricorn: December 22-January 19. Your creative energies are in alignment, and you should be ready to make the most of it. Create some new inroads with your use of video, audio, as well as the written word. Experiment a little today; but make your choices wisely and follow your strengths.
Aquarius: January 20-February 18. Direct your inquisitiveness outward today. Build your online relationships by asking your clients, “What can I do for you?” Remember, the universe is always asking WIIFM? Your energy will attract all sorts of wildly different individuals your way, so you can expect some interesting conversations.
Pisces: February 19-March 20. You are in a good position to create an online space that works for your communication. Be bold, and go where your audience is. But be cautious of those who will confuse policies versus best practices as you build your identity.
Aries: March 21-April 19. Your lucky numbers are 9,22,42, and 53. Be aware that 42 is particularly important at the cosmic scale.
* All the above aphorisms taken with a grain of cosmic salt from the author’s recent interactions at the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) annual conference in St. Louis, and from a particularly invigorating presentation there by Gary Vaynerchuk discussing his ideas from his book “Crushing It: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In On Your Passion.”
Ning announced today that it will soon convert existing customers to a fee-for-service subscription or cut them loose. Jason Rosenthal, CEO of Ning, announced the shift in the company’s business model while downsizing his company by more than 40%. The first question for most Ning community owners not willing to pay up is “where do I take my online community of practice now”? Some suggestions follow.
First, what does all this mean for the middle school teacher, educator or e-learning professional whose Ning community has amassed months of content and a band of faithful members? It depends. In terms of the platform, open source options abound and here are a few posts from Blackweb20 and Readwriteweb that offer some ideas:
Insoshi ( http://github.com/insoshi/insoshi)
Community Engine (http://www.communityengine.org/)
If you were truly smitten by the Ning interface and have a blossoming community of practice, you might have been on the cusp of going with the premium option anyway. It could very well be that Ning’s move benefits you the most as they will hopefully be better positioned to grow revenue in a manner more proportionate to their bottom line.
Now the implications…Is this the end of third-party, non-open source solutions or simply the fruition of an unsustainable business model? It’s neither and to some degree both. First of all, Ning is simply a blip in the larger unfolding narrative that is open source versus proprietary software. Ning, like many 3rd party, closed-code platforms or tools doesn’t allow one to peak under the hood or customize beyond surface level aesthetics and basic features. This frustrates some and is perfectly OK with others. However, like many in the proprietary software camp, Ning has tried to make nice with developers by providing more API (application programming interface) access—think viewing your Netflix queue on a 3rd party Web site or phone app.
In all honesty, I’m not surprised by Ning’s decision. I wrote about the challenge of the unsustainable social media business model awhile back when discussing the Facebook phenomenon—Ning is not the first to be forced to make this transition and will not be the last…Twitter alert! Matt Freeman at the Vatornews blog sums it up well with his blog title, “Ning exposes freemium’s underbelly”—indeed.
That Ning is neither the end of proprietary platforms nor the poster child of an unsustainable business model is apparent when you realize they will still host sites; their community administrators will simply have to verify the viability of their site against their pocketbook—and this could be a good thing for Ning and everyone else.
The perceived failing or success of a single platform can often encourage those on either side of the open versus closed curtain to proclaim victory as Matt Asay at the End of the Road Blog suggests already happened back in September 2009. While Matt’s thoughts on this topic are both sharp and informative, his prediction preceded iTunes’ domination of the digital content world (exaggerated, but do look at the Flurry analytics)—accomplished to a large extent in the wake of seemingly worthy open-source opponents that aren’t putting up much of a fight. Of course, prediction could become prophecy and end-users could stop using proprietary software systems altogether, but many closed software (free and for fee) platforms are landing volleys with progressively more velocity and direction, even in light of ever tightening gatekeeping systems tied to their distribution method, i.e. iTunes, Amazon, etc.
The only significant loss (beyond some possible migration time) for those leaving Ning will be if the time spent facilitating the community did not result in a greater understanding around what constitutes and effective virtual community of practice. Anthony Bradley lists six principles of social media collaboration that help unpack the characteristics of healthy virtual communities and works by Etienne Wenger and other pioneers on this topic are a helpful aid in winnowing out the principles from the tools that instantiate virtual communities.
Ironically, a colleague and I just presented at a conference on the topic of virtual communities of practice and in an attempt to more clearly understand organizing principles of such communities, we administered a poll to the 433 members of the Ning community. The results from the 88 respondents can be found in the middle of the SlideShare presentation below and are interesting.
So, once you’ve done some evaluation on whether to convert to premium or migrate your community elsewhere, hopefully you’ll take some time to reflect on the underlying principles that have resulted in intended outcomes or positive participant behavior and especially those that did not. As Warren Wiersbe once said (albeit in the context of theology and not software), “Methods are many, principles are few, methods always change, principles never do.” Hopefully, regardless of platform, we’ll continue to be more concerned about the underlying principles related to transparency, persistence and other factors that boost community participation, digital or otherwise. Otherwise, we’ll truly be beholden to the upgrade treadmill and software migration paths that are necessary in the open and closed code context.
There’s a lot of traffic on the blogosphere about best practices for social media. But we need to be cautious not to confuse best practices with “rules.” Many of our colleagues in higher education in general, and Extension in particular, are seeking some hard and fast policies about social media. Here are four misconceptions that could encourage the development of “rules” about social media, and why I think we should totally ignore them.
1. “Social media needs to be carefully monitored for accuracy.” There is a fear in industry of compromising proprietary information, that loose social lips will sink corporate ships. Educators have their own version: removing the center of information sharing from the subject matter expert will compromise the credibility and accuracy of information. Instead of seeing value in social interaction with knowledge, they fear it. They are no longer the sage on the stage. In the Information Age, we have been taught since grade school to check our sources, to ferret out accurate, unbiased information. In the Google Age, it’s a flat out survival skill. We need to trust people’s judgments, and get over it.
2. “Social media needs to be controlled.” In some policy conversations it’s not uncommon to see the word “manage” used in the same sentence as social media. From my perspective, managed social media is an oxymoron. It is by its very nature unmanageable; it is creative chaos. But recognizing patterns in chaos is just what the human brain is designed to do. We’re good at it.
3. “Social media can waste valuable work time.” Is time spent interacting with social media yet another way for workers to shirk their duties to engage in personal communications? Some think so. But given that social media has surpassed email as the preferred means of communication, this makes no sense. That’s where your clients are, and your colleagues/employees need to be there, too. For many newbies, getting comfortable with social media will require playing with it. Industry understands this. “Make social media part of the job, just like email,” says ENGAGEMENTdb in their report evaluating how well the top 100 global brands are engaging their consumers using social media.
4. “Best practices are the same for all.” Because so much of what is published about best practices—and policies—comes from private industry, it’s only natural that many will look to them for ideas. But the drivers for industry—revenue and profit—will influence their approach to social media, and not always apply across the board to educational settings where social media will necessarily be practiced differently. Educators need to study what industry is saying about social media, and then apply it with their own twist.
That’s just four “rules.” There are more, I’m sure, and I look forward to your additions of what else to ignore.
About ten years ago, I left UCLA in the middle of my Ph.D. work and since that time, have always had mixed emotions when contrasting the relative calm of the academic classroom with the storm of a tech company’s cubicle. Needless to say, it felt ironic to recently come full circle and return to academia. This last year at Oregon State University has been somewhat cathartic, but also surprising in terms of just how relevant E-learning has become to the academic context … and ”yes,” I had my doubts at first when I realized that some of the clouds forming over the technology industry years back have also cast a shadow over university campuses.
It was a wonderful surprise to find that many of our department’s E-learning projects focus on translating practical, research-based content for a broad cross section of the population into some type of format that can be easily understood by as many members of this audience as possible. In other words, deliverables really seem to matter to our end users and ease of access is a major factor with each project. While many projects in private industry seek to package specific proprietary information for product usage (learning software or otherwise), our projects tend to run the full gamut of content area variation (viticulture, gerontology, energy usage, gardening, canning, etc.) and are oftentimes topics that are “near and dear” to our audience. So, while our work may not be as readily classified as workplace centric, I do feel that E-learning projects that mature under the umbrella of university Extension entities can be helpful artifacts that contribute to the larger dialog of what can be deemed as both efficacious and scalable within the world of instructional technology.
To demonstrate how some of this confluence between content variation, personal/professional development, serving end-users and media comes together, I thought providing some examples would be the most efficient approach. Please note that most of the headers include a live link to the course or example–just hover your cursor over the text and click.
Overview: An assistant professor wanted to broaden the reach of her “Aging Well” classroom-based courses by making the content available in an online format. Where possible, we tried to ensure the user experience was as straightforward and accommodating as possible based on the characteristics of our audience. AARP sponsored this course and funding came from the USDA for its development.
Tools/Platform: PowerPoint, Adobe Presenter, Fireworks, Sony SoundForge
In support of this project:
Aging Well blog to help encourage discussion of course-related topics
2. Portland Metro Area Master Gardeners Ning Site (Virtual Community)
Overview: Our group worked with several key faculty members and created a customized Ning site (using CSS, unique header). We did a basic needs analysis and populated the site with features and media that we felt would be welcomed by this audience. We then worked with this group to help ensure that there were volunteers who could help provide momentum as the community got underway. Since this site went live, the community has added numerous new features such as a Twitter widget, links to Google calendars/documents, Photosynth panoramas and many other innovative enhancements that allow gardeners to post photos and then diagnose or discuss these more collaboratively while online.
Tools: Ning, Fireworks, CSS, some Dreamweaver
3. Oregon State University BeaverTurf Ning Site (Virtual Community)
Overview: The primary stakeholder, a professor of Turf studies at Oregon State, wanted to more efficiently help foster professional relationships among golf course superintendents in the Pacific Northwest. We built a customized Ning site for his end users and “seeded” his site with videos, RSS feeds from relevant Turf groups and other assets. We also added a new Ning application to allow the group to do turf-based product reviews as this was one of many items end users requested via our needs analysis. He will also be feeding blog content into the site and we added the Twitter feed filter application to populate one page with the latest Twitter activity around turf-related key words.
Tools: Ning, Fireworks, CSS, some Dreamweaver
4. Pachyderm Presentations
This “do-it-yourself” multimedia development tool is yielding some wonderful online presentations. We offer some basic training on how to use the tool and then let faculty loose to shape their own Pachyderm story. Please note the examples below are still under development.
Ganti Murthy from the department of Biological and Ecological Engineering explains bioethanol production for the rest of us.
Sarah Griffith’s Pachyderm, “Art about Agriculture”