Friday, April 3, 2009

Thoughts on Readings - Week 4

Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City

This article compares Wikipedia to a city, a metropolis online. I'm not sure I would go that far but it does represent what we mean by digital citizenship. It's a democracy for all that choose to participate. And that's where the concern also lies. Is Wikipedia credible? Is it a crutch? Last year, one of my husband's 4th grade students chose a famous person to do a biography about. His entire report was a word for word paragraph from Wikipedia. Now, plagiarism issues aside, was this even representative of the person? How accurate was it? Was it simply laziness that caused this student to rely solely on Wikipedia or did he think it was a complete picture of this person? The article identifies that one of Wikipedia's founding principles is "Assume good faith". That's great but as adults we may be able to discern when something is inconsistent with "good faith", but can a 9-year old? The article muses that it's the "sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is" but the question is, how accurate is it? Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Wikipedia and use it often. I just don't rely on it to be the sole provider of answers. As educators, we need to encourage the use of multiple resources to cross-reference data and ensure accuracy. The non-linearity feature of Wikipedia - the ability to get lost and follow multiple paths finding ever more interesting information - is great but only if the information is reliable. In some ways, I love the fact that Wikipedia is open to all. It's a true democracy of information. And, Wikipedia, themselves have chosen not to require expertise which, in the opinion of the author, "has made all the difference". Absolutely, this is true in terms of growth and popularity. But, maybe there ought to be some way to discern content that is shared by experts from those that aren't - this mostly in an effort to help younger audiences analyze the accuracy of the data.

Feeling Too Down to Rise Up

This article proposes that the digital generation, while still invested in widespread anger over such topics as AIG and the economy, are less likely to demonstrate in front of buildings and explode into riots; that they are passive because "anger remains corralled on the Internet" and it is unlikely that the "Obama administration [or anyone] will do much to assuage the anger [that way]." I have to disagree here. The author claims that technology separates us but I believe it actually brings us together. The very idea of LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, Twitter and more is that these technologies bring us together with people who share common interests or who want to remain connected in one way or another. Additionally, the author notes that we are too self-involved, reading our own niche news and listening to our own personal playlists, and that this means we can't have effective rebellions, again, because we are in our own little worlds. On the other hand, wouldn't you think that these niche preferences would eventually make us experts? Experts who then provide valuable insight to the group, rebellious or otherwise. The author feels that rebelling publicly or even political engagement is to expose your own inadequacies, but I don't see that at all. In fact, the Internet gives us a whole new forum to express discontent and likely hides inadequacies when so many others agree with the sentiment. The author alludes to the necessity to bring back "real protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, even good old-fashioned town-hall meetings". Excuse me, he must have missed the Barack Obama Open for Questions virtual town hall just last week. I believe that social tools like Twitter are even more empowering (not to mention safer) than riots in the street and the impact these technologies have will cause more action to take place by the recipients of the dispute than ever before.

Is Facebook Growing Up Too Fast?

Facebook is growing astronomically and it suggests tht Facebook is becoming an "essental personal and business networking tool". I would not have argued this point last week, but it's even more clear to me now. On Monday, I found out that my job was being eliminated and almost immediately I realized the impact that Facebook would have on me and my network. My peers, my partners, my customers - they all wanted to be my friend, to help me find a job, to introduce me to others. Of course, there is the expected use of Facebook - students chatting with each other, sharing pictures, posting their favorite American Idol etc... and there is also the less common but apparently growing in popularity application of using Facebook as a genealogical search tool (Cool!), but another use is worth mentioning to counter the article above. "Facebook has also become a vehicle for broad-based activism". Hmmm, and some people think the digital generation doesn't rise up!

The other aspect of the article that is worth discussing is Facebook's own perception of itself. They view the most important metric as the amount of information "zipping across its servers" not the number of members. They believe all the recent changes they are making to the interface are to make "the act of sharing" easier and faster and will soon introduce dynamic page updates instead of forcing a refresh. However, what I found most interesting is that they believe Facebook is NOT a democracy. What? We keep talking about how Web 2.0 and Facebook in particular are all about participatory democratization of information. So, how could Facebook not be a democracy? Well, they believe that Facebook is more a medium of communication and that they have "enough perspective to ... be caretakers of that vision". The problem is that the members of the Facebook community "feel not only vested but empowered to challenge the company." So, what does the future of Facebook look like? Well, two views might give us a clue.

1. Facebook is not a "homophily" - Facebook users associate with people of all different mindsets, ages, ethnicities and relationships. This is how you build a network of value and I suspect this will continue to grow although some privacy challenges will need to be overcome.

2. Facebook is the new DoubleClick - Interactive advertising by engagement is the wave of the future. Get users to become fans of your brand and tell their friends and so on and so on (like the old Shampoo commercial). Get users to vote for their favorite products and you build brand loyalty without even realizing it. When users participate, it is way more effective than a pop-up annoying ad or click-through that must be followed.

The Celebrity Twitter Ecosystem

This is a brief article about how Twitter has emerged as a sort of anti-tabloid for celebrities and highlights the interrelationships (the social graph) among famous people. I refer to it as an anti-tabloid because in most cases it's the celebrities themselves who are posting updates and not their publicists, so it's very real. It's not gossip, it's their real lives. And, I think that is the point of Twitter in the first place: for all us, it's a place to comment on your own lives and let people with similar interests converse with you. Let's not forget that celebrities are real people too, with real interests, and there is no reason you can't share an interest with them. I think this would also be a very interesting way for students to present a biography of a famous person they respect - follow them on Twitter and add that to any other research about the person.

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