Social Media Report

As I explained Wednesday night in class, your social media reports are due the first class after spring break, as are all of your first half reading blog entries. Entries completed after Wednesday March 12th will not be accepted. You do NOT have to have done any of your optional blog posts yet.

For the social media reports, I’m going to be looking for at least 15 social media sites spread across at least three of the four following areas: Blogs/Microblogging, Wikis, Social Networking (including both sites and groups), and Social Media (Vlogs/Podcasts/Citizen Journalism/Audio/Video). If you have picked a subject that doesn’t get you 15 sites in three areas, you need to change your definition or pick a new topic.

Write up a brief description of each site, classify it, the URL, any traffic details or size numbers you can track down, as well as some analysis of the level of engagement. Don’t forget some of the resources we’ve used like TruthLaidBear and Quantcast. Here’s an example entry for a Facebook group that I belong to:

Site: Vermont State Society Facebook Group
URL: http://harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8156815255
Type: Social Networking Site
Traffic:  22 members in group; Facebook ranks 15th on the web according to Quantcast
Description: This largely inactive group supports Vermonters in Washington and members post job listings and news stories of interest to it. It is an open group which anyone can join with a single administrator. No one other than the administrator has posted to it.

IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING NOTE: For the next two weeks of class, I’m going to flip the subjects. We’ll do Wikipedia first and THEN MMOGs so we can build off the last two weeks of class without interruption. With the Wikipedia class, we’re going to delve into the world of what Stephen Colbert calls “Truthiness.”

As your first journey into Truthiness and the challenges of the web, take a look at the documentary “Loose Change,” which was put together online to highlight the U.S. government’s role in the 9/11 attacks. On YouTube, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to view “Loose Change”—and, if you take the time to watch it, it makes a pretty convincing case that we don’t know the full truth about the 9/11 attacks. All told, across its various postings and versions, more than ten million people have watched the video. The challenge, of course, is that at best the documentary aspires to “truthiness,” that is it’s hard for a lay viewer to judge its actual level of factual interaction. Places like Popular Mechanics have tried to debunk the theories. One student last semested pointed out to me in class a parody of “Loose Change” called “Unfastened Coins.”

It’s easy to dismiss endeavors like “Loose Change” (or is it?), but the journey into Wikipedia is much more complicated. Here’s some background reading and viewing on Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia. Its founder, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, has turned into one of the web’s big celebs. He’s a big proponent of collaboration and “crowd-sourcing.” The project, though, despite becoming the default research tool for most college students and lazy journalists/researchers is very controversial for its “truthiness.” It’s very hard to know what exactly you can and can’t trust on Wikipedia. Newsman John Seigenthaler got very burned by a libelous write-up, and not surprisingly Encyclopedia Britannica thinks the project is the devil incarnate. On the other hand, a Nature study found that the two are about equal in accuracy. Of course, the beauty/challenge of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it, as Colbert likes to demonstrate by raising the subject of “Wikiality” on subjects like elephants.

If you want a few other examples of wikis and how they’re used, check out the DisInfopedia and these useful resources on what wikis are and how to use them to collaborate. The articles also include some useful tips on how you might apply wikis to the work that you’re doing.

This is the week that I want you to be most wary of what we’re learning. Ask hard questions about wikis and Wikipedia—we’re going to talk in class about your mini-project, which will include contributing to a Wikipedia entry and preparing a research report on using a program that allows you to track who’s been editing a particular entry. Your blog entry should focus on the following two questions: 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”?

In class, I’ll walk you through some Wikipedia pages, help you set up accounts, and explain WikiScanner.

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