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Social Media and Virtual Communities


Course Topics: 2 How to Interact with Social Media

This is a course for the students with a strong interest in new technologies and how they may be used to create new business opportunities, particularly new social networking media.  Topics covered will include social networking and how the business world leverages them, virtual worlds and technologies, skills in designing and implementing social media for business value using sharepoint and iTunes U (hands on projects). 
Why does mode of interaction matter?  How much does it matter?
What are the emerging modes and technologies for interacting?
Initial Thoughts:

Topic 2 is the longest among our 10 topics this semester.  So rest assured the reading load decreases after this.  The ways in which we interact with social media affect the ways we understand.  For example, if we can simply talk and interact through our normal speaking and gestures, we are likely to understand interactions with others similarly to how we would understand them absent any media influence.  As you and I know, such systems do not exist in common usage.  So, what does exist?  What would be an improvement?  To what degree can we do without human contact within Social Networking in the Digital Age?  Is it acceptable to blame mistakes and blunders on the media themselves and ban them from usage (My BlackBerry Ate My Accountability)?  If the media we use affect what we may perceive, does that mean that they may actually affect how we live and who we are?  Will richer media like 3D virtual worlds like Second Life regain our natural interactive capabilities and perhaps enhance them (The 3D Internet Will Change How We Live)?  When might we expect these more advanced social media such as 3D worlds to become really easy to use?  What are some keys to making business software seem easy (Business Software’s Easy Feeling)? [Post any Social Media Design Nuggets that occur to you.] 

There do seem to be cultural preferences about ways of interacting with social media (In China, Internet Users Prefer to Say It by ‘IM’).  New services provide bridges between not only the media but also the physical and cyber worlds by using the various interaction modes available in a particular place.  There have been translation services for Web pages for years (e.g. Babelfish).  Now we are seeing some that work through the phone for both translation (Making Yourself Understood in Beijing) and transcription (e.g.  At a fundamental level, these services add new digitized information that can be woven into social media and virtual communities.  What if you can Capture Your Scribbles so that you have instant digital copies, searchable, of everything you write and no longer need to type?  What if the pictures you take in your camera are at such high resolution that they provide microscopic detail that scales (Microsoft’s ‘Deep Zoom’ Zeroes in on Web Images)?  We can image then that virtual worlds might consume these new information objects and use them.  We can imagine that you would be able to build virtual worlds- interactive, immersive, 3D environments- into Web pages (Google to Let Users Build Virtual Worlds Integrated With Web). 

The access to information and interaction around that information will become more accessible.  A basic theory called the ‘U’ theory should guide your thinking in this regard.  It says that digital, personal interactive technologies will increasingly be characterized by “Ubiquity,” “Unison,” “Uniqueness.”  Ubiliquity means everyone has access to information and resources everywhere.  Unison means everyone sees the same versions of the information and resources everywhere in the same ways.  Uniqueness means that the granularity of data is kept even when aggregated surface appearances are rendered.  Let’s see how these concepts are indeed appearing in the interfaces for social media.  Deep zoom certainly keeps the granularity.  Translation and transcription services certainly enable unison in communications, as messages can be instantly communicated anywhere in any language.  Digital pens and other input-output (I/O) technologies provide improved unison too.

The iPhone is proof of this U-future as we see the App Store ballooning in its offering of hundreds of applications including detailed, navigable, 3D schemata of the human body, within only months of the software development kit being released (A Shopping Trip to the App Store for Your iPhone).  One of its central achievements, whether you realize it or not, is always being able to uniquely identify and locate the user.  This is critical.  It allows unique services for enterprises and the syncing of appropriate services and information to ensure ‘unison’ viewing of data and analysis.  Thus, syncing becomes a big issue for social media too.  In order for a group to work together, they have to minimize update anomalies and versioning errors.  So we see That Syncing Feeling for Basic Cellphones. 

So, as the U-future approaches we will increasingly deal with these interfaces to our social media.  The oldest medium for encoded communication is, arguably, the alphabet.  However, we know that there are multiple alphabets for interfacing into human language.  These alphabets shape our thinking.  Have a look at How Alphabets Shape the Brain.  If the medium can shape our brain, will be begin to perceive things differently than we would have without these advanced interfaces?  Will we achieve increased powers for sensing and interacting?  Read “Why Do Things Look As They Do?  It is an article from the 1950s.  What still makes sense?  Has anything changed?  What do you believe is most likely to change within our perception of things?  As we explore media this semester, consider what is missing in the current interfaces to give a full human perception experience for visitors and inhabitants of our social media spaces.  Add any design thoughts you have to our social media design nuggets page.  A design nugget is any idea that occurs to you as to how to make social media interactions or interfaces effective.  For example, “enabling feedback” is a nugget, because static media will necessarily only be broadcasting messages.  Another nugget is “update regularly” as the eye, for example, settles on its perception of an object, so too will visitors settle on their understanding of a social medium.  Regular changes / updates will cause a re-perception of the medium and be more likely to re-engage the participant.

Social media are emerging at a time with communications researchers, such as myself, are beginning to understand adaptive structuration.  This concept means that using an object changes your sense of the object but the object will also change you!  Do you believe that?  Suppose you use a pencil a lot.  What happens?  Your hand develops pencil-oriented muscles.  Your brain develops linear thinking.  What about the pencil?  It gets worn down (shorter).  Paint may be worn off.  Lead runs out.  Basically, adaptive structuration has this pattern of reciprocal causation, that can be frustrating to understand.  The pencil example should help.  Using the pencil led to changes in you.  Your use lead to changes in the pencil (it got shorter).  As it got shorter, your grip probably had to change again to compensate.  This is how communications technologies appear to get used in groups.  As groups use them, they adapt how they use them, and the particular usage patterns influence the resources and constraints for communicating.  Have a look at Communications in Groups to see a history of communications theory and what we know about how groups communicate.  These theories directly relate to how we need to understand, design and manage social media and virtual communities.  Do you see specific implications? Imagine if you perceive communications from a mathematical interaction perspective on communications… what sort of virtual community would you be likely to build?


1        *WSJ “Social Networking in the Digital Age”

2        *HBR “My Blackberry Ate My Accountability”

3        *WSJ “The 3D Internet Will Change How We Live”

4        WSJ “Business Software’s Easy Feeling”

5        WSJ “In China Internet Users Prefer to Say it by ‘IM’”

6        WSJ “Making Yourself Understood in Beijing”

7        Computerworld “Capture Your Scribbles”

8        WSJ “Microsoft’s ‘Deep Zoom’ Zeros in on Web Images”

9        WSJ “Choosing Among the Many Apps for Your iPhone”

10   WSJ “That Syncing Feeling for Basic Cellphones”

11   WSJ “How Alphabets Shape the Brain”

12   *Gibson Perception of the Visual World Chapter 1 (1952) “Why Do Things Look as They Do?”

13   *Frey, Gouran, Poole Handbook of Group Communication Theory and Practice  (1999) “Communication in Groups”

14   *WSJ “Web Sites Want You to Stick Around” (Topic 7 overlap)

15   WSJ “Cellphone Keyboard Morphs to Fit Tasks”

16   WSJ “The TouchSmart Has Improved – But Not Enough”

17   WSJ “Web of Widgets”

18   WSJ “Keeping IT Simple Pays Off for Winning Programmer”

19   WSJ “Dallas Utility to Install 3 Million ‘Smart’ Meters”

EVERGREEN Investments Mobile CRM CASE

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