Tag Archives: response#

Response#11- N is for Namibia

One of the things I am noticing about the African blogosphere through the platform of Global Voices is that group formation is still in its infancy .  If Shirky is correct, and social tools’ strength comes from the informal collaboration of groups around activities that valuable to some but impractical for an institution, than this may be a reason that the type of group action (flash mobs) found in Belarus aren’t taking off in places like Namibia.  I don’t want this post to sound like online activism is not happening in Namibia or elsewhere on the continent, as clearly, they’re groups forming around female circumcision and government criticisms, Going back to the Brabazon criticism I pointed out a few weeks ago, there is a gap between an offline context from posts (here, here, and here) that maintain a journalistic and/or personal blog feel, and the group dynamic of social tools.  This gap could be attributed to issues of access, literacy, and anonmity from the perspective of potential African users,  and most certainly to my Western proclivity of lumping all African countries together.  I while I know that mobile technology is considered the burgeoning medium within developing countries, I think there is a difference between mobile activism which supplements traditional online activism (popular in Western countries) and restricted to mobile activism only (in many developing countries). Christian Kreutz has an interesting presentation on Mobile Activism in Africa that basically says that while the potential for mobile technology and the growth of its usage particularly in Africa are hopeful signs, there are still many obstacles for this type of group action driven by social tools to reach critical mass.  Interesting sidenote: Kreutz cites the group Azur which used both SMS technology and a local radio talkshow to hit both the technologically literate and illiterate regarding the issue of domestic violence.  I am starting to wonder if this type of cross platform (new and old technologies) collaboration may be the catalyst for group formation as it captures people’s curiousity about a particular movement who wouldn’t otherwise participate.  It makes me think about how the Dean campaign appeared huge on the blogosphere because the bulk of his most ardent supporters were on the blogosphere too. Rallies with hundreds of people seemed great for the darkhorse candidate but it was roughly the same narrow niche who were finding out about campaign activities through the internet.  The blog posts from Global Voices in Namibia seemed siloed by individual and the activities relegated to those narrow few who visit the site.


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Response#9 Wikipedia . . .

Should we trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

I think the potential benefits of the long tail, the limitless space by which to accumulate information, and the organic nature of Wikipedia make it formidable resource for storing and gathering information.  But should we trust Wikipedia over an expert-led encyclopedia like the standard-bearer, Britannica? Should students be allowed to use Wikipedia as a primary source for their papers? Is the potential of the tragedy of the commons too big a cross to bear for the sake of disseminating information?   Is anonymous posting on Wikipedia a gateway to misrepresentation? Finally, is there reason to believe that there may be an inadvertent bias toward white, European-descendent males? Probably, no, no, not quite, and not sure.

On the issue of trust, I favor timeliness over institutions.  I will admit that like newspapers and some books, Wikipedia can be prone to errors, but as  Nature magazine found, so could Encyclopedia Britannica. I would venture to guess that particularly for more popular articles at least, Wikipedia has not only the ability to correct them, but have anyone come in and make the correction themselves.  The group monitoring that each category undergoes ensures that there isn’t a kind of stop the presses moment or worse an acceptance of the error after its too late to recall them (something that may occur with a print reference).  So why can’t students use Wikipedia as an original source?

My belief is that information is most constructive when it is static.  Wikipedia is a great resource for general timely overviews, but when formulating an idea, static information provides the sturdiest foundation for critical thinking. This can be particularly important when it comes to the descent by a minority view.  Even if this minority viewpoint is not accepted as correct, having the ‘mistakes,’ ‘visible,’ means that other can learn from it.  Using Wikipedia as the primary or sole source would be akin to believing that the first item that comes up from every term you type in a search engine will be exactly the item you need.  The act of rejecting a premise is as important as accepting one.

The story of John Seigenthaler is that often cited cautionary tale of the limits of Wikipedia and additional stories of the possible M15 mole SlimVirgin, EssJay, and Vandalism on Wikipedia Watch, if true, represents a disturbing vulnerability to Wikipedia’s open approach.  That said, the Britannica makes mistakes a 12-year old can find, textbooks can tell half truths or outright lies, ‘journalists‘ can make up stories out of thin air.  Wikipedia has demonstrated a willingness to refine their process to mitigate the possibility of the tragedy of the commons just as Britannica, modern textbooks, and MSM eventually corrected their own vulnerabilities.  The advent of WikiScanner, also goes a long way toward mitigating ‘foul play’ on the playground of the ‘people’s encyclopedia,’ while many textbooks have articles without attribution and newspapers are still allowed to print articles with, ‘sources close to . . .’

The last question was first brought to my attention at Antonella Weyler’s post last week about the relative homogeneity of Wikipedia authors.

If so, does the fact that the 83% of contributors are men, mostly white, put Wikipedia’s “representativeness” in check? Who is expressing the knowledge and experiences of the ones who have no access to internet: 93% of the population in African, 80% in Asia, 75% in the Middle East, and 70% in Latin and Caribbean American? Is Wikipedia articles biased by a limited perspective?

This might simply be an access issue but again, the over-representation of white mostly male techno-class isn’t unusual to the web generally but the same argument can be true for the gender inequity of collage professors or racial equity in media.

When it comes down to it, many of the issues with Wikipedia seem to be issues of scale and access.  If it were possible for Britannica to have over 32,000 (as one report has it for Wikipedia) contributors to their English language version, would people be criticizing them too? If Britannica could manufacture and distribute its volumes for free, would people criticize that Britannica is too accessible?

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Response#7 Most Surprising Thing About Social Media Class . . .

It has to be that the sheen of our web 2.0 world is a little faded from in 2007-2008 when I started and withdrew from a similar class. When I first read Shirky in mid-2008, I felt what it must have felt like to read Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999.  His was the kind of theoretical approach to the Brave New World of social media that I was both in awe of and excited to see how the world could change because of this medium that thrived in spite of traditional hinderance of money and resources.  I appreciated the case studies because they were largely around the frame of us, the users of the world, as global underdog that could take down theft safely behind laptops, almost shift the balance of power in entrenched political machines, and take down one of the world’s most powerful religious institutions.  Shirky in explaining the force of the many to many,  pitted us (the aggregate collaborators) versus powerful though narrowly focused institutions.

I wasn’t foolish to think that social media would mean a kind of perpetual digital revolution (Mao by way of Google), or that the kind of global realignment Shirky writes about would happen 15 months after he declared it, but maybe I hoped I was wrong.  The Obama campaign or Graff’s, ‘First Campaign’ may be the culprit in skewing my perception that campaign forced tradition media to wake up and take a gigantic leap forward. Tommaso Sorchiotti’s slideshare presentation aptly and comically depicts this.  The quixotic narrative of 2008 Presidential cycle lifted the resurrection narrative of the power of the web and vice versa.  Both are a bit of mythology of course, I do think that ascendance of the Obama campaign and the side-story of their online strategy made the most compelling argument for the power of social media.  But its 2009 almost 20-10, and I am left with thinking:

What’s Next?

All new media tools herald a new dawn in how we communicate but eventually it falls victim to the tragedy of the commons, right? I guess I thought the villian of this tragedy would be some lone-gunman type and not MSM or the social media tools themselves.   Social media, web 2.0 tools, and their companies are no different. Google, who could do no wrong in my book two years go has become just another company that is doing what it can to bend reality to its own creepy interests.  Twitter just saw its ultimate social potential when it was the go-to medium of reporting Iran elections protests by the US government no less and yet it bothers me that Ashton Kutcher has more followers than NPR.  When AIG has an RSS feed, it makes me want to stock my house with canned goods and wait for the Mayan Prophesy.  I am not saying that social media and web 2.0 tools have jumped the shark, just that we still seem to have made this leap and no one really knows what is next. Web 3.0 and the semantic web is probably years if not a decade away.  We are in this grey area where these tools are being actively adopted by the media institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times not because it generates revenue, but because it seems the only way to stay above mere relevancy.   Perhaps I thought in a web 2.0 world, Moore’s Law applied to social change as well as computing speed.  And maybe it does, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve culturally reached even a tenth of the journey to critical mass.  Perhaps this still an odd time to look back on the last six to ten years of the web 2.0 social media explosion and study it as you would artifacts.  It’s no longer new, yet we haven’t reached the point in this journey where we are closer to the end than the beginning.  Then again, there is something to Shirky’s notion that technology doesn’t get socially interesting until it becomes technologically boring, and this world of many to many communications isn’t boring yet.

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Response#3 The Lending Library of the Social Web

It’s hard not to compare Open Social Web‘s Bill of Rights to the US Bill of Rights.  In Joseph Smarr’s post on the genesis, he acknowledges that implementation details may be a point of debate.  I don’t want to go into that thorny debate here and I do agree that sites should respect user autonomy, but the idea of ownership as it relates to the social web, is a point of contention for me.

  • Ownership of their own personal information, including:
    • their own profile data
    • the list of people they are connected to
    • the activity stream of content they create

    While I think personal information on the social web should be protected, I think you get into a sticky situation when you make the leap to ‘ownership.’  Take Facebook: I don’t have a sense that I ‘own,’ my profile, the list of people it is connected to, or the activity I create.  If anything, I feel I am borrowing from Facebook to giving my information away.  I understand they are talking about sites using social web applications and those sites have no right to ‘own’ the data but if I am freely giving my data to them in order for the site to link to something or someone else,  doesn’t a web site like Facebook have to be effectively a part-owner? And the people I connect to, don’t they become part owner of my material the moment they socially engage in it? To me, social media is more like a lending library where you are expected to make infinite amount of notes in the margins of any book. Just because you wrote the notes  doesn’t mean you own the book. -NS

p.s. Garrett and Mike-this was an incredibly interesting topic that I can see myself trying to monopolizing most of class tomorrow discussing.  If you put other students’ blogs on the blogroll, I could relegate my response to their comment’s section and we could all come to class with a dialogue in progress. There is simply too much material to cover to give this idea justice.

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