Michael B. Spring
The World Wide Web has evolved over the last two decades and social networking has emerged as one important evolutionary development. Cormode and Krishnamurthy (2008) set out an interesting comparison between the document based web and a people based web. This article sets a starting point for this seminar. The article makes a number of interesting points and while the authors position is to suggest differences between “Web 1.0” and “Web 2.0”, holding that there is a difference between web 2.0 and social networks, it is the contention of this seminar that they have made an important distinction between two generations of the web where web 1.0 is associated with content objects and hierarchically organized web sites and web 2.0 is associated with networks of human actors organized around some activity. This seminar will endeavor to cast these new kinds of web environments, i.e. social networks, in a theoretical light.
Students should do some thinking and literature review prior to joining the seminar. The seminar leader has offered four seminars in this area. In 1997, the seminar was on social capital and explored how social capital might be manifest in web sites. I believe this was a timely application of social theory development by Coleman, Putnam, and others. In 2003, the seminar addressed the semantic web. The semantic web is still important and manifests itself in a variety of ways. The conceptual underpinning is still important. The last seminar I offered, in 2007, focused on “Aggregate Annotation Information”. It included social tagging, but from my perspective, was much broader in its theoretical scope. Sometimes, people focus very narrowly on the technologies and applications of the day, and miss the more important underlying theoretical focus that explains what is going on. Participants should keep in mind that the best preparation for this seminar is fundamental theory that may explain the phenomena we observe. Social networks are not web dependent. They have existed for thousands of years. Our goal is to understand how these structures evolve, develop, or emerge in the digital environment. Key to this, I believe, is the search for “compelling interactions”.
Combined with the focus on social networks, the seminar will add a focus on “compelling interactions”. For the purposes of this seminar, “compelling interactions” will be defined in two distinct ways. First, we will define a compelling interaction as any interaction or activity that has grown virally in practice. Photo sharing via flickr and article writing via Wikipedia can both be defined as compelling interactions. During the seminar, we will seek to understand the characteristics of activities that are compelling and not compelling. The goal of this activity will be to define the kinds of interactions that people will seek out and maintain an interest in. The second definition of compelling will be broader. It will seek to examine the kinds of interactions which might be developed in this context that would be compelling from an organizational as well as a personal point of view. As a very simple example, if it could be proved that the development of a document by a group could be done significantly faster and cheaper via a social network, without any loss of quality, or better yet with an increase in quality, that would make online collaboration in document development a compelling interaction for organizations and would suggest that organizations would invest to make such interactions occur for their members.
Given the starting point defined by the introduction above, the focus of the seminar will be determined by the instructor and the students registered for the seminar. While the specific foci and topics covered will be determined collaboratively, there will be some requirements that will be met in the process. These include the following:
1. Each participant will select a theoretical perspective from which to view social networks, read the basic papers on the theory and make a presentation to the seminar on the theory and how it might be applied. Some examples of theoretical perspectives that might be considered could include:
· Social capital (Putnam, 1995)
· Group dynamics (Cartwright, 1951)
· Group psychology (Bennis, 1956)
· Organizational Theory (Astley and Van de Ven, 1983)
2. Each participant will also pick an analytic technique which might be used to analyze social networks existing in digital form and demonstrate how the technique might be used on a small set of real data to provide some insight into the operation of a social network
3. Each participant will pick some aspect of organizational endeavor, existing or imagined, and demonstrate how such an endeavor might be carrier out in a computer mediated social network
I believe that we can conduct this seminar at a variety of theoretical levels. We could choose to look at all of the social systems as annotation systems. I know that people like to use the terms tags, but I think that provides less than an optimal perspective. Similarly, we could choose to look at what is going on as initial experiments in the development of social software. What we are seeing today may only be the tip of the iceberg. We already have some indication that such software will become part of politics, education, family life etc. Finally, I hold the belief that what is going on today might be the beginning of a new way of communicating. In this last context, it is possible that we will develop whole new ways of communicating that will come to supplement the oral and literary traditions that have emerged over the centuries. I include here a few preliminary thoughts about each of these ideas.
The seminar leader has a strong inclination to view social tagging systems as one manifestation of annotation systems. The phenomenon of annotation has been observed for centuries, but it was been little studied until the 1980s when Marshall and others began to explore the full potential of digital versus physical annotation. One taxonomy of annotation divides them into graphical and textual. Graphical annotation would include highlighting, exclamation points or asterisks. Textual annotations could be a simple as numbers in the margin, single words, or summary statements. It is not unreasonable to extend this taxonomy to include actions, like dog-earing a page or creating a link to a passage. Whenever someone creates a link to a particular web page they are making a “statement” about its importance. (We accept the fact that the first link to a page may be an exception to this hypothesis in that its role may be defined as simply positioning the page in the web.) Similarly, whenever an individual bookmarks a page, they are making an assessment of the value or utility of the page. These activities may be classed as a coarse form of annotation, both in granularity and in information. Highlighting a section of a page is more granular, but equally uninformative. Typing a link or tagging a page would be more informative, but at a coarse level of granularity. Finally, a comment associated with a particular fragment of text would be both informative and highly granular.
Google uses incoming links to pages to aid in ranking pages retrieved from a query. The success of Google is testament to the fact that even this coarse form of annotation can be mined. A number of systems have emerged over the last few years that provide access to the aggregate annotation activity of individuals. Flickr uses tags to provide better access to image collections. Del.icio.us uses user bookmarks and the tags users assign to assist in defining sets of bookmarks based on queries.
Given that a system provides the capability to annotate resources at any particular level, we can ask whether such a systems would be enhanced by different forms of annotation. I have suggested that links, bookmarks and tags are forms of annotation. It that the correct superset? Is there a better model? What kind of tagging does the system allow? How easy is it to annotate? How informative and accurate is the annotation? Does it make sense to introduce more refined forms? Are there forms of annotation other than incoming links, bookmarks, page tags, fragment annotation, highlighting, notes?
Given a critical mass of annotations, what are the ways they can be used. What is the taxonomy of actions on the various forms of annotation? What are the benefits to the user? What can the owner gain from the information? Are there secondary users of the information? How can the information be repurposed to query refinement, social analysis, collaborative filtering, knowledge management, team building, data mining, ontology development?
The systems that are emerging today can be viewed as experiments in the development of social software. Several of the systems that have been introduced have evidenced growth that can be described as viral. What makes some social software so attractive? While the mechanics of viral software are becoming clearer – exposure, invitations, and word of mouth, what people choose to define as valuable enough to invest in is less clear. For example, what is it that moves Linked-in or del.icio.us from inception to critical mass?
Some systems grow virally, others wither and die. What is the initial user motivation to use a system? What makes some web applications viral? The literature provides some guidance. There have been several analyses of groupware that have tried to explain the popularity of email and the recurring failure of group calendaring software, etc. Does the democratic nature of the software explain what works? Is it missing functionality? Both web mail and social book marking provide ubiquitous computing solutions for mail and browsing applications. As an imap mail user for almost a decade, web mail was both cumbersome and without significant advantage, but for POP mail users, it provided a significant multi-machine advantage. For many users without extensive organizational infrastructures, it provided a valuable free service. Similarly, unless a single laptop is your only machine, web based bookmarks allowed the same bookmarks used at work to be accessed on your home machine. We will examine a collection of systems with an eye to identifying the characteristics of applications that have significant appeal to users both as personal systems and as social systems.
If the characteristics of social software systems that make them appealing can be defined and understood, we can look at how to build systems for a variety of purposes that people will find attractive and engaging. For example, there is tantalizing evidence that some forms of medical treatments (i.e. cognitive behavioral therapy) can be delivered in the context of social systems and can be observably effective in treating certain medical conditions. There is similar tantalizing evidence that political engagement may be positively induced via the internet. While formal controlled studies are lacking, there is ample anecdotal evidence that educational practices are being impacted. Where will all this lead, and will we stumble into the future or march forward with an eye to trying to optimize our activities.
It is difficult to pinpoint when humans developed spoken language developed as a critical means of communication. Ong holds that social interaction has been occurring for the last 30,000 to 50,000 years. Although it is impossible to pinpoint the origin of spoken language, it was clearly millennia before written language. For purposes of discussion, I select 40,000 BC. Scholars refer to this period as the period of the oral tradition.
The oldest deciphered written documents are about 6000 years old. Scholars identify the development of writing as beginning the literary tradition. The oral tradition, from an information theoretic perspective allowed information to be codified by means of language and memory and passed on from generation to generation. However, the oral tradition was subject to information loss in the reproduction process, and the capacity of human memory was a limiting factor in the amount of information that could be passed on. Further, the transfer required that sender and receiver be collocated in time and space. The literary tradition eliminated the need for collocation, vastly expanded the amount of information, and made a significant improvement in transmission errors, although it left coding and decoding errors.
I want to suggest that the oral and literary traditions are being supplemented by a new form of communication that I will call “immediacy” Time may well produce a better or more appropriate term, but the concepts that might be associated with this new era, especially those that provide a contrast to prior traditions, seem to me to have an association with a new form of communication that is more immediate than the oral and literary tradition. I would begin with five points.
First, in the long tradition of communication via the spoken and written word, the communication of information is via an intermediate party. The information gained in not immediate. The information passed from generation to generation via the oral tradition was rich and structured by the orator or storyteller. The tradition and the techniques are fascinating and well beyond the scope of what can be covered here. For our purposes, the key is that story that was passed on was about events as interpreted by the storyteller. The literary tradition has the similar characteristic – it is an interpretation of events presented in a symbolic form. Contrast these presentations of information with the broadcasts of the Hindenburg disaster, the Kennedy inauguration speech, the O.J. Simpson car chase, etc. All of these events are presented without intermediation – they are immediate. Of course, it may be argued that there are interpretations provided by how the video or film was shot, or by how the microphones were placed, or in the case of the network news, how the video is edited or what context it is put in. None-the-less, there is a qualitative difference with which we may be exposed to information. Take the growing presence of webcam on the Internet for viewing public places or traffic flows as other examples of immediacy in the communication of information. I don’t need to be told, or to read, that it is raining in Pittsburgh, I can simply look at the screen and see the rain. Indeed, it is possible to learn that it was raining yesterday or now by connecting the live webcam or its archives from anywhere in the world. This aspect of immediacy relates to our presence to the event.
The second aspect of immediacy relates to the speed with which the information may be disseminated. We now have information floats of seconds where historically the lag between the event and the information about the event was in terms of days or weeks. War and space coverage are examples of this. In the 2003 Iraq war, viewers were able to get a picture of an advancing tank column as it occurred. Indeed, two of the events burned into the memory of 50 year olds in the year 2000 are the funeral of JFK and the landing of a man on the moon. Both of these events received wide and immediate coverage, accepting that there was a 1.32 second delay in the transmission from the moon to earth! This sense of immediacy refers to the temporal nature of the communication.
A third aspect of immediacy has to do with the immediacy of a vast information store to the creator of a message. Many of us are familiar with the process of dragging and dropping information from one place to another on our electronic desktop. Many of the sections of this book have been created by dragging and dropping parts of lecture notes and slide presentations created over the last two decades of teaching and researching in this area. While I grow increasingly concerned about the loss of information created on very early systems or using now defunct information formats, this is, I believe, a temporary phenomenon. With time, we will have immediate access to all of our own information and research so as to more effectively access and convert it into messages. The day is not far away when lectures might be captured as a matter of course. A little, but not much further away, is the time when I will be able to say “That was a great instantiation of the ideas I meant to convey, convert it to written form, insert my diagrams, show the steps I suggested for processes, and animate the two critical development sequences. This is immediacy in information creation.
A fourth aspect of immediacy relates to the receiver’s access to the message as an evolutionary whole. This concept is a little harder to describe than the others because, while important, it is not one that we have seen in practice very much as yet. Historians have a fascination with drafts of important speeches. An edited copy of an inaugural speech or a speech like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address provides an opportunity to try to interpret the thought process that underlies the communication. Historically, the process of depicting the evolution of a communication has been very hard. For years now, we have had the capability of easily capturing the version tree of a document in process. With time, it will be more common to have access to the complete record of the development of a message. When that occurs, recipients of a communication over space and time will have the ability to “see” a communication evolve in the mind of the sender in ways that we can barely imagine today. The ultimate implication of this aspect of immediacy is likely to be living documents that capture the creator’s efforts and allow the receiver to query not only the document but to speculate with more data about the thought process behind the words.
A fifth aspect of immediacy has to do with the digital nature of the message. That is to say that this communication can be repaired on the fly. Errors normal in the transmission can be detected and corrected immediately. The communication has developed a degree of immunity to the noise in the communications channel. Thus, we can now here a pin drop in a conversation with an individual on the other side of the world. This in not because there is no noise in the communication channel, but because the information in the message can have additional data added that provides a mechanism for correcting the impact of noise. This same digital quality allows the message to be replicated in its bit form at a fraction of the cost of traditional replication. The message can also be encrypted insuring an appropriate level of privacy and security in the communication.
Week 1: What do we mean by Social Networks
Discussion of the Cormode and Krishnamurthy article
Some Theoretical Perspectives on Social Networks
Insights from Physical Sciences
Insights from Social Sciences
Insights from Artificial Sciences
Week 2: Setting the context and definitions
Web1.0 versus Web 2.0 versus Web 3.0
The semantic web versus the social web
Tags and Bookmarks
Users and Groups
Resources and Objects
Week 3: What kinds of data are available?
Week 7: What do we mean by Work, Collaboration, and Documents?
Here are a few readings that will serve as a spring board for our early discussions. The Knowledge and Data Engineering Group at the University of Kassel has a number of papers worth looking at (see http://www.kde.cs.uni-kassel.de/pub/index.html).
Cormode, G. and Krishnamurthy, B., Key differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 First Monday, 13(6) - 2 June 2008
(1951). "Achieving Change in People: Some Applications of Group Dynamics Theory". Human relations (New York) (0018-7267), 4 (4), p. 381.
Putnam, R.D. Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital Journal of Democracy 6(1) (1995) 65-78.
(1956). "A Theory of Group Development". Human relations (New York) (0018-7267), 9 (4), p. 415.
Astley, W. G. and Van de Ven, A. H., Central Perspectives and Debates in Organization Theory., Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 245-273
Volume 12, Number 8 - 6 August 2007 Theories and models of and for online learning Abstract HTML Caroline Haythornthwaite, Richard Andrews, Michelle M. Kazmer, Bertram C. Bruce, Rae-Anne Montague, Christina Preston