Teaching Examples


Tools for creating a social network
June 22, 2007, 1:16 pm
Filed under: culture, future, socialnetworks

If you’re going to build a social networking site online for a geographical community — what I like to think of as a “real world” community — what software will you use?

You might think with all the free and open source tools available, the hardest part would be choosing one. Not so. According to an interview with JD Lasica, one of the Knight Challenge Grant awardees (submit new ideas starting July 1), there’s a list (read it!) of essential tools that are NOT out there waiting to be picked up and used — including an “out-of-the-box community publishing solution.”

As someone who’s been writing HTML since 1994, I know that existing solutions and tools (which you may have heard about) are both powerful and complex. One example is MediaWiki — the software that runs Wikipedia. It can be installed on a Web server pretty easily, if you know what you’re doing. It’s free. It works just like Wikipedia (and looks like it too), so you already understand what it can do. The trouble is, there are just so many options! It’s as if you moved into a house with a bare interior. All the plumbing and electrical outlets are in place, but it’s left to you to erect the very walls, hang the doors and install the sinks. Yeah — daunting!

This is a conversation we need to start having in journalism now: What are the requirements of a social networking site? How do we make such a site easy to set up and begin operating? How do we make it open and customizable? How to we empower the people in the network to self-regulate, to police trolls and flamers, to vote the best contents to the top?

I don’t mean “how” in a way that can be answered by “Look at Slashdot.” I mean “how” in a way that enables someone to manage options and configurations without reading the Help files for six weeks before they start.

We need to have more journalists and editors — who are not programmers — involved hands-on in the process of inventing these systems so that the end product is usable and understandable to the people who will be configuring it.

Digg the original article and JD’s list.

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Social networking and the news habit
June 20, 2007, 3:14 pm
Filed under: culture, future, socialnetworks

At my university, we are playing host to 17 journalism educators from 17 countries, most of which are “developing” rather than “developed.” We have arranged six weeks of lectures, workshops and travel for them with the goal of increasing their understanding of how we practice and teach journalism in the U.S.

Of course they all use the Internet, Google and e-mail (they teach at universities in their home countries). They have all seen YouTube before. But yesterday we learned that very few of our participants are familiar with Facebook, MySpace or Second Life. We have also learned that in some countries, LiveJournal or MSN Spaces (now renamed Live Spaces) are far more popular than they seem to be here. (Last year two of our students from China told me that MSN Spaces is by far the most popular social networking site in China, and Baidu far outstrips Google in search engine usage.)

Who Participates (Business Week, June 11, 2007)
So while this was fresh in my mind, I saw this excellent information graphic (via the MultimediaShooter blog).

It’s a pleasure to stare at this graphic — the data are so clearly depicted, and the information is fascinating. (It represents U.S. users only.)

What you see in the graphic might not surprise you — Americans ages 18 to 21 use social networking sites more than any other age group — but think about what this might mean for the future. We don’t know whether this group will continue to use these sites — or similar sites that emerge later — to the same extent, or in the same ways. But use of such sites is spreading around the world. In countries where access to the Internet is low, and/or literacy rates are low, we won’t see the same patterns emerging. At least not yet.

We do know that mobile phone use is higher than Internet use in many countries, however, and it’s clear that Internet-capable phones are getting better — and cheaper. People in developing countries already create ad hoc networks for text messaging, through which they disseminate news and gossip that often is censored from the news media. This cool chart would be different in other countries.

The Digital Youth research project offers a lot of interesting stories coming out of ethnographic research under way in California. Researchers are studying how kids play, learn and socialize “in virtual places and networks such as online games, blogs, messaging, and online interest groups.”

What I’m pondering is the implications for civil society — modern democracies — social networks in real life, which keep us from devolving into chaos.

As Steve Yelvington has said more than once:

Media consumption patterns are set early in life, and tend to persist. The change that endangers the newspaper business model is not one that involves readers losing the habit. It is, instead, a generational change that involves losing the actual readers from the population pool.

In other words, these 20-year-olds who do not read a printed newspaper are never going to become newspaper readers.

Most of the news industry in the Western countries has recognized this already. We see different patterns in some other countries, such as India, but I think the trend of the Internet — especially via mobile phones — will continue indefinitely.

What I’m thinking about today (and I do apologize for taking so long to get to my point) is that the habit young people in the U.S. do have — now, at that crucial age when patterns are set for life — is the pattern of interacting in social networks.

Their interpersonal networks might well reconfigure over time. The software or sites they use might well change or be replaced by others. But their habit of staying connected digitally, checking for updates, making plans, sharing gossip, getting information — this will likely remain their habit, their means of keeping in touch with the world around them, for the rest of their lives.

That’s why we need to understand these spaces where young people interact. I don’t know if it really requires setting up a bureau in Second Life, but it certainly does demand our attention — immediately, today.

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The most interesting thing I read yesterday
March 16, 2007, 12:59 pm
Filed under: culture, future, online

From an excellent New York Magazine story about the way twenty-somethings bare all online and seem to have very different opinions about personal privacy from those of us forty-somethings:

Shirky describes this generational shift in terms of pidgin versus Creole. “Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media.”

The story: Say Everything, by Emily Nussbaum.

And dig the multipage layout: One big excellent photo at the top of each new page! Brilliant! Yeah, yeah — usually I despise multipage layouts. This one works — for the first three pages. Then I guess they didn’t have any more photos, because there are no more after that. Bummer. I wanted to see pictures of everyone.

Tipped by: Will Sullivan.

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