Is Social Media Still Serious Business? Part 2

Over the next few years we are likely to see the continued integration and convergence of devices, media and channels, with users taking technology with them wherever they go, instead of being tied down to the immovable PC at home or the office. The term mobile will have a greater meaning and we can expect to see integrated wearable technology available in daily life. Already there are Nike Plus and Adidas adiStar Fusion running shoes that deliver data on distance and pace via an iPod.

The recent link between Seesmic and the BBC is another great example of these changes. The BBC is asking people to share their thoughts and opinions on issues of the day via Seesmic and the material may then be published either on BBC online or on BBC television. User created video is about to experience substantial growth and the change the face of social media as we currently know it.

We are moving from a one-way video publication model of YouTube to the conversational model as evidenced in Seesmic.

Soon we will be able to do many of the social activities that are now only possible with close physical proximity via social media. For example, women often approach shopping as a social activity where they can share opinions and advice as part of the shopping experience.

Growth in social applications that enable this, such as search and shopping, are already here. My Virtual Model ™ has just launched a new visual search application. Users search visually for outfits and put them on their customised virtual model, share them with friends, ask for their opinions, and put the model against different backdrops. They can then purchase the outfits online.

Thus social computing enables us to adopt real life social modes of being in an online context. This makes the next generation of social uses interesting to contemplate. It also makes monetization and commercial adoption critical.

More on this later …

Is Social Media Still Serious Business? Part 1

Social media is being woven into the fabric of our daily lives almost without us noticing. Most mainstream news sites now have user comments and voting, and they embed video that we can share.

Sites like Facebook and MySpace are going mainstream; even parents are getting involved so as to interact with their children. Business networking sites like LinkedIn and Xing are providing useful ways to connect for business purposes. These sites are using web 2.0 style social computing features to drive user engagement.

Presently there are more that 100 million websites according to Netcraft and many of them now incorporate social media and web 2.0 elements.

There are a couple of important things to note before we consider technology. Firstly, human beings are inherently social creatures and we formed social networks for generations without the benefit of any technology apart from language. Secondly, the speed of technological change means that much of our opinion of what is important today will be proved wrong, possibly even a few months from now.

Technology is evolving fast. For example six months ago most people thought twittering was something done by birds. But 2008 saw micro blogging via Twitter become widely recognised as an innovative social media platform.

In 2009 it is likely that video micro blogging and point of view video will begin to take off as our social media becomes even more personal. Some of the new platforms make it easier than ever before for ordinary people to participate, for example Seesmic enables anyone with a webcam and microphone to participate in video blogging.

More on this later …

Social networks & identity, or how do we know they’re our friends?

Some things never change.  When human beings form into groups we want to ascertain who is friend and who is foe.  We want to know who we can trust and to what extent we can trust them.

However, until recently, face-to-face meetings were part of this assessment process.  And close physical proximity tended to mediate relationships for most of us.
But now we face the challenge of determining who people are and if they are our friends. And today this process is often mediated only by online channels.
The primary problem is identity – are they who they say they are?  The secondary problem is authenticity – are they being real or assuming a different persona, and can I rely upon that persona?  The tertiary problem is how to know and possibly to reference the varying degrees of relationship.
These problems have been subject of much discussion between myself and friends or colleagues over the past few years – both in real life and online.  Our answers to the first two problems tend to come down to the fact that over time it is hard to maintain an alternate persona or identity and to keep it consistent.  Thus sock puppets are usually uncovered due to inconsistency or they lose interest and fade away.  Over time as you interact with someone they tend to reveal themselves in various ways and to demonstrate consistent patterns of thought, conversation and behaviour.  There are also a number of identity management initiatives under way, such as OpenID.
The the third question is one to which there seems to be no easy answer.  One possible solution is a representational approach as outlined in the XFN™ or XHTML Friends Network. This is described as “a simple way to represent human relationships using hyperlinks”.  But I’m not certain that merely representing the relationships actually helps us to know people any better. Nor am I certain that representing these relationships in a hierarchical classification will actually improve those relationships.
I have no answer to this last question and am interested to hear other opinions.

Social Implications of Social Computing #5

Because the way we use social computing is changing the means, times and places by which we interact with other people this gives rise to issues around boundaries. 

It also means that we are dealing with a radically different set of expectations – from our learners on the one hand and from their parents on the other hand.  Most of the parents were socialised in the old non-digital world; while our learners are the digital natives.  It’s going to be an interesting balancing act between those different sets of expectations.  
And in dealing with issues about boundaries (and different perspectives on what the boundaries are) we can expect discussions about: 
  • the times and places of learning;  
  • the nature of educational content;  
  • and the authority to decide all of this.  
And the interesting thing is, that what we think is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Just try to get a 15 year old to do something they don’t value or feel like doing.  
This notion of boundaries in a hyperconnected world is another challenging concept. But it is worth remembering that many of our most interesting discoveries are made at the boundaries of the currently known world.  
But some of the questions that arise are:
  • Why does school have to be at whatever the set time has been for generations?
  • Why does school have to be in the one place all the time?
  • What is legitimate content of learning? And how can we effectively assess it?
  • What about the role of authority? Who has it & why? How do we feel about that?  Is it generational?
A lot of what we seek to achieve in education comes down to sensemaking.  Dan Russell provides a nice definition of sensemaking: “Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task.” 
To a certain extent these changes mean that we need to become co-participants in the learning experience.  Become facilitators of the process rather than the experts.  This does not mean that our experience and empirical knowledge is not valuable.  But in the world we face we need to get learning back to our ancient tribal roots where a teacher was linked with the learner as part of a community or village.  We need to establish mutual respect and open dialogue. And luckily now we have the technological tools to facilitate that dialogue.  

Social Implications of Social Computing #4

Technology is very seductive and it is easy to fall in love with it rather than viewing it dispassionately as a tool with utility for various tasks.
It is really important for us to avoid getting caught up emotionally in the technology.  This is important because the technology is changing every nanosecond.  What was cool two years ago seems unbearably slow and lame today.  We need to be strong and not fall in love with the technology so that we are ready to change when new technologies arise.  But we also need to be open to new ways we can use technology in different contexts.
Instead we need to retain our focus on what is important, not technology but people.  
This new technological landscape and its cultural and practical implications are going to create challenged for educators and their institutions.
The institutions of learning in this country are pretty conservative and slow to adopt new fangled technology – usually quite sensibly on the basis of cost.  
But now with social computing (sometimes called web 2.0) and open source the main arguments against new technology adoption are being destroyed.  The argument that institutions of learning should develop closed and proprietary information systems is no longer valid.  Why are we locking away access to educational information behind firewalls and security?  When institutions like MIT open up much of the courseware for free this should really make us think about our own institutions. 
Individual educators are embracing change. But sometimes these visionary folks seem more like revolutionary cells rather than part of the institutional mainstream.  
But the learners will eventually force our hands by disengaging if we do not respond to the shifts in their cultural practices.

Social Implications of Social Computing #3

  • Growth of knowledge
  • Too much knowledge to keep in our heads
  • No more epic poetry
In our tribal past there was a need to keep knowledge in our own heads for use by the individual and for sharing with others, hence the popularity of oral learning such as epic poetry.  For example, great literature as we know it today, but in their time the Iliad and Odyssey were spoken verse.  And that tradition was an important part of learning.
But now we have far surpassed the ability of any human to retain the sum of useful knowledge in their own head. This means that our learning practices need to change.
This gives rise to two things related to knowledge and our access to it. Firstly, the storage media for knowledge is changing – from oral to paper to digital (and here I include text, hypertext, audio, video and whatever gets invented next.)
Secondly, there are still some essential knowledge frameworks that must be resident inside our heads for us to be able to decode the storage media. For example, the ability to read is critical.
Thus we still need to equip people with the basic tools of literacy.  But those tools we need to use for broader sensemaking are changing.
Perhaps it is time to consider adding some tools for thinking to our educational repertoire  – Getting Things Done, goal setting, lateral thinking? Also perhaps time to consider how we can meet affiliation needs by offering collaboration opportunities via technology tools – such as wikis, blogs, social networks?

And how do YOU decide how/what/when to blog?

GirlTUB mafia

Unlike the esteemed SilkCharm who tapped me to answer this question my blog is essentially self-indulgent.

This blog is called Aide-mémoire for a reason, primarily because I wanted a place to record my musings and ideas that seem interesting to me.  It’s a personal blog. For some reason I cannot think while writing on paper so an electronic medium is more effective.

Usually my posts are sparked by a conversation (either online or offline), something in the media, an RSS feed, or on Twitter. Generally the inspiration is from a person or a relationship of some kind (the picture above shows some of the people who’ve inspired me to write stuff – photo credit @Trib).

Because it is a personal blog focused on things that interest me there are a variety of themes. Including – LOLcats, social computing, the changing nature of traditional and new media, people, communication, politics, technology and humour.  But since I really am a bit of a geek the themes tend to revolve around technology.

The how is easy. An idea hits, I think about it, discuss it with friends, research it a bit if necessary and then write it. This can be anything from a 5 minute to a 5 week process depending on the idea. I don’t pay any attention to SEO or analytics.  I am really happy when another human reads these posts and engages in a comment or tracks me down on another channel, like Twitter (@kcarruthers), for a constructive conversation.

Now there’s a bunch of great blogs in my RSS reader – here’s a few worth a look:

  • Sramana Mitra – where I go to learn about tech business
  • ChiefTech – he is da man for enterprise RSS
  • Stilgherrian – always charming & erudite [Update: @PeterBlackQUT rejects this characterisation & suggests “offesive or provocative” is a better fit.  I respond that @Stilgherrian can be charming but that I make no warranty as to when he might do so. No debate was entered into regarding the term “erudite”.]
  • Meterand – serial entreprenuer & all round nice guyCatherine Eibner – Microsoft geek guru girl

I wonder how these folks will answer the question (shoulder tapping here) how do YOU decide how/what/when to blog?

Social Implications of Social Computing #2

Consumption of media is now happening on the user’s own terms.  I can access what I want when it is convenient for me, and in the media format that I prefer on my preferred device.  This means that the consumer of today has a lot of personal discretion, and this has implications for expectations of learners.  We are moving away from the passive consumption model of my youth and moving towards a demand driven culture.

Anyone who knows a teenager probably already knows about Bit Torrent – people can download their preferred shows and watch them when they want and on their own terms.  In the music space iTunes and LImewire have done the same thing.  No longer do we have to buy the whole album for just one song.  There is bandwidth being chewed up at a great rate to satisfy these demands.

We are wired to deal with smaller groups and wired for small chunks of information.  The fact is that we seem to retain our tribal brains.  And we often seem to work best in small groups – like basketball teams or football teams – who join together with a common purpose.  

This is a critical construct for addressing some of the challenges facing us.    There have been many studies of human working or short term memory and many are familiar with Miller’s idea of the ‘magical number seven’ – being the number of items we can hold in our working memory.  We used to need skills like remembering oral information to keep us safe and transmit important information to others.

But now this is no longer required as we can just Google the information or phone a friend.  There was even a recent example at PLC school in Sydney where the exams were not merely open book  The students were allowed to use any materials, even mobile phones or the internet.  This is how we would undertake a task in the real world anyway.

Since we are still tribal creatures we are stuck with limits on how many people we can meaningfully interact with.  Many cite the Dunbar number of 150 people as the limit of effective group size.  And we can already see the answer to the question of how we deal with being connected to large groups of people all the time.  We chunk up our larger groups into subgroups based on common interests, habits or physical location.

Ultimately we are social creatures and want to create social networks either online or offline. A good example is Facebook where ordinary people of all ages and with little technical skill are routinely creating affiliation groups.  These online groups are even creating real life relationships – for example the Twitter community in Sydney often meets up physically with most of us having met online originally.  

Social Implications of Social Computing #1

Social computing has exploded and is changing the world we knew in a number of ways that impact on education. But social computing is not so much changing the world as it is changing student’s expectations of what kind of technology they should use in their everyday life and how they should interact with other people using that technology. This is a revolution akin to the telegraph and radio in its capacity to change the world we live in. For our learners technology is just part of the furniture for them, they are truly digital natives who have different beliefs and expectations.

A great example of this was at a friend’s place recently and her 3 year old brought over the TV remote and said it was broken. We finally worked out that she thought it was broken because she was unable to interact with the TV in the same way is with the PC.

This change gives rise to a number of interesting questions about learning and by implication about teaching.

Mark Pesce said recently that we are now connected, not by 6 degrees of separation, but by as little as one. Hyperconnectivity is being experienced by participants in the social media and social networked worlds.

Realtime, all the time, people are connected with their social networks and via mobile devices (not just phones anymore). This is not just a western phenomenon, as Mark has mentioned, even fishermen in remote villages are using mobile phones to help them to run their businesses better.

Thus there is a generation gap, but it is not based on age any more. Instead it is based on our relationship with technology. This gap is in relation to technology use and expectations. We have on the one side people like some of my friends who have only recently become comfortable with using email, and who only the use their mobile phones to make phone calls and who can’t imagine why you’d do anything else with a mobile phone. These people watch TV when the shows are broadcast and would probably be surprised and/or uninterested to hear of a different way. On the other side we have people I tend to call the digital folk – they use a plethora of digital devices, PCs, iPods, mobile devices, etc. They use these devices to do their work and to manage their social lives. One group is still living in the traditional world and the other inhabits a highly connected digitally connected world.

The interesting thing about all this social media is that users are starting to mix and match – consume it on their own terms. The digital folk, and this includes many of our young people, are mixing and matching platforms and devices to form a web of connections. They are interconnecting their activities on different media and platforms, for example, Facebook takes Twitter feeds which feed into SMS and are sent to mobile devices. And now with data capable phones like Nokia’s N95 or E71; Apple’s iPhone (a.k.a. the Jeebus phone); or the HTC Touch series of phones – data connectivity is mobile.

Think about this, some of our digital folk don’t remember when you could not buy stuff online; they think it is normal to order groceries online; and can’t imagine queuing all night to purchase tickets to a gig. They get it online and when they want.

One common thread in all of this that digital activity – social networking, shopping, consuming media – is no longer necessarily happening while stationary at home in front of the PC. A lot of this consumption is on the move using mobile devices.

More on this later …