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Social Media and Virtual Communities

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Course Topics: 5 Humanity Increases

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). 
Questions:
How are social media making society better?  How do these applications deal with privacy concerns?  Why are they effective?
Researchers predicted social liberation and the emergence of ideal democracy and human liberation in Network Nation in 1979 when looking at the Internet.  How are social media making this happen?  Why are they simply an extension of this vision?  What comes next?  What is still missing?
 
Initial Thoughts:

If Spore succeeds on the educational and social fronts presented by Wright, will it be due to the wisdom of crowds?  As we enhance games with social media, will outcomes and markets get more accurate? (“Trading on the Wisdom of Crowds”)  Is trading in markets already like playing a game?  Can ideas be added to such markets?  (“Online Market Lets Companies Buy and Sell Ideas”)  To what degree will social media enable new capabilities for business/humanity?

As we can see in China following the earthquake in May, “[Social Media] Technology Helped News Spread Quickly.”  Tools like Twitter enable grassroots organizing and operations even in remote areas.  Is this perhaps threatening to companies?  Does it make work too decentralized?  Is that why “Some Companies Rethink The Telecommuting Trend”?  Businesses are increasingly taking advantage of these new communications and information technologies to make telecommuting arrangements with workers with 30% growth in telecommuting between 2005 and 2007.  Is this a sign of the expansion of our human capabilities to maintain group connections and work at a distance?  Or is it more an issue of resources, such as “Rising Fuel Prices Prime Pump for More Telecommuting, Virtual Meetings”? 

Looking at Facebook’s successful applications may help us disentangle the value people are deriving out of social media.  (“Some Facebook Applications Thrive, Others Flop”)  Useful services, entertainment, and mingling seem to be keys to top applications.  Enhanced communications far exceed other applications.  Why does this active interaction attract people so much?  Are they interacting in new ways not previously possible?  “A Photo-Sharing Site Where Active Participation is Allowed”  Are barriers between friends reduced such that we can better understand each other? “For Friends Online Walls Come Down”  How are we now more able to get niche content that enables us to dig into topics of interest at great depth? “Snag Films Finds Virtual Theaters for Documentaries” 

If we are expanded in our ability to understand each other and find deep understanding of even very specific topics of interest, what ‘s next? Will we be able to “[Give ] Avatars Emote Control”?  And where does all of this lead?  How is it actually enhancing business or creating new opportunities?  I have read about the emergence of the hyper-differentiated economy.  This is an economy in which a company can sell anything it can make, because there are niche markets for everything.  Finding that market becomes key.  The niche market will pay a premium.  If Branson is right, social media are a key to reaching this kind of niche market [“Branson Just Doesn’t Quit”]. 

If social media are keys to new markets and information sharing that enable humanity to hyper-differentiate then who and how will any one piece of the fabric influence the rest when there are so many sources for information?  Some bloggers have become blog superstars.  “The Blogger Mom, In Your Face” explores how these media can be manipulated and managed for a very popular blog.  What is different about this than we experience in normal corporate relations?  If nothing else, it is directly from the source to the recipient rather than filtered by intervening management levels.  The person wanting to contact the mega-blogger expects to be able to directly touch and interact with them.  In a sense, the individual participant has as much control as the mega-blogger.  This control seems to be another way humanity is increasing.

If “Google Helps Organize Medical Records” what will be possible?  Will consumers be able to reverse engineer the price of services and the mistakes in care?  It certainly offers a future in which patient portability increases and second opinions will be easier to acquire.  Making it easy for individuals to share and analyze information relaxes many assumed constraints that govern how we current conduct business.  If we do this right, we will be able to capture social-interactive patterns and reproduce them, offering them to people as intelligent computer services.  For music Apple now does this with its Genius Bar in iTunes and as it is also done in “Web Tools to Free Your Inner DJ.” The online services offer functions that would only previously have been available as high-priced, hard-to-get packaged software.  Even the big boys are having to move to this lower-cost, Internet distributed model for computer applications [“Microsoft Expands Online Services”].  One question to ponder, how does Apple know which songs go with which?  Similarly, how does Google know which page you will want when you type your search terms?

Ultimately, these enhanced experiences will trickle out to new spaces like car commutes.  We should be able to harness the power of crowds to “Take on Traffic.” Uniting information and jointly analyzing it will be greatly enhanced, particularly for those who are not in power and generally have only minimal means for organization [“Egyptian Political Dissent Unites Through Facebook”]  These are signs of the emerging networked future that Nesbitt and Hiltz foresaw in their books in the 1970s.  Non-governmental organizations are able to tap niche supporters who are willing to target higher donations in exchange for more information about and interaction with what they are supporting [“Charity Cases”].  Individuals are putting up tutorials on a wide array of topics, such that not only can niche markets be created, but niche markets for skills and services may also be destroyed.  People can more readily teach themselves [“How to Teach Yourself to Do Almost Anything”].  And, if you can’t do it yourself, there are combinations of new devices merged with the Internet and others’ expertise in niche areas that can enable virtual interactions at much greater engagement and sharing than before.  The medical field has seen this level of interaction grow dramatically [“GE Venture to Develop ‘Virtual Microscope’”].

Gradually, embedded policies that govern and constrain the potential in Internet media data sharing are also being relaxed [“ E-Proscribing Get Support in Congress”].  People are becoming more relaxed about interacting through social media.  When I programmed a system for mentor interaction a decade ago, it was challenging to get the mentors-mentees interacting beyond data sharing in the online system.  Now, we see “Web Sites Offer Access to Mentors” at much greater richness in interaction and sharing.  Do these sites offer features and focus that enhance mentoring relationships beyond the face-to-face ones of olde?  What features of these media do enhance human experiences?  As the data get merged with group thinking and display and visualization systems, many new forms of authoritative sources like “States Reports on Childcare Centers [are hitting the Web]”.  Realtors are releasing some of what used to be their unique competitive advantage, their knowledge of an area and what is for sale [“Realtors Agree to Open Listings to Online Discounters”].  We see tension in their choice.  Individuals on the Web get more power and control through this information and the ability to share and discuss it.  Does that mean we have become better humans?  How so?

Discussion:
 
Readings:
1 *WSJ “Trading on the Wisdom of Crowds”
2 *WSJ “Online Market Lets Companies Buy and Sell Ideas”
3 *WSJ “Technology Helped News Spread Quickly”
4 *WSJ “Some Companies Rethink the Telecommuting Trend”
5 *Computerworld “Rising Fuel Prices Prime Pump for More Telecommuting, Virtual Meetings”
6 *WSJ “Some Facebook Applications Thrive, Others Flop”
7 WSJ “A Photo-Sharing Site Where Active Participation Is Allowed”
8 WSJ “For Friends Online Walls Come Down”
9 WSJ “Snag Films Finds Virtual Theaters for Documentaries”
10 *HBR “Giving Avatars Emote Control”
11 WSJ “Branson Just Doesn’t Quit”
12 WSJ “The Blogger Mom, In Your Face”
13 *WSJ “Google Helps Organize Medical Records”
14 WSJ “Web Tools to Free Your Inner DJ”
15 WSJ “Microsoft Expands Online Services”
16 WSJ “’Motor Borg’ Takes on Traffic”
17 WSJ “Egyptian Political Dissent Unites Through Facebook”
18 WSJ “Charity Cases”
19 WSJ “How to Teach Yourself to Do Almost Anything”
20 WSJ “GE Venture to Develop ‘Virtual Microscope’”
21 WSJ “E-Proscribing Gets Support in Congress”
22 WSJ “Web Sites Offer Access to Mentors”
23 WSJ “Checking-Up: States’ Reports on Childcare Centers Hit Web”
24 WSJ “Realtors Agree to Open Listings to Online Discounters”
DKW Wikis Case
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