Social Media Changing our Information Ecology

 

This morning’s keynote, by danah boyd, is on social media and networked technologies: research and insights. She’s a PhD student at UC Berkeley and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. She points out the different takes on Web 2.0. It’s not just technology; it’s the interaction between people and the technology. It has radically reshaped public use from being topically organized to being social. You don’t go a Usenet site to discuss cats, you check what your friends are doing and talking about. She likes the phrase "social network" sites to "social networking" sites.
 
Online you’re only an IP address, your profile is your digital body. People repurpose technology to express themselves as they want to be known. It’s a decoration exercise. But she notes there’s some awkwardness in revealing yourself online. Those who collect lots of friends have different reasons. Think politicians and 14-year old boys. Writing on walls is, essentially, social grooming. Status updates, tweets, and similar microblogging activities give people a peripheral view of what’s going on around them. She thinks this will evolve tremendously.
 
There are important reasons to hang out online. Young people today have decreased mobility; parents don’t let kids out of the house. Fear is one reason, over-structuring of kids’ lives, lack of public transport and no parent to drive are others. So, they hang out online. Sites serve as public space, but they’re not the same as physical space.
 
Persistence is great for asynchronous communication, but since every ephemeral act is now permanent, it can be embarrassing. With technology’s enabling copy and paste functions, replicability means you don’t know how the original communication has been altered. Things can be taken out of context. Scalability means you don’t know who’s reading your posts. (She says the majority of blogs have only 6 readers, but I’d believe our Infotoday Blog reaches a lot more than that.) Searchability can be weird. People may not know where you are, but you are findable online. Parents, bosses, those in power know how search for you, but there are ways to make yourself unsearchable, essentially putting incorrect information in your profile.
 
We have invisible audiences for our social network communications. We also have collapsed contexts and different audiences. As the divergence between public and private shrinks, the issue becomes controlling the public space.
 
This makes for a radical change in the information environment. The practice of the general population in tagging horrifies librarians. What we learned in graduate school is now being done by people with no training. Young people are contributing to the creation of knowledge, again to the horror of librarians. Librarians need to teach media literacy. Another change in the information ecology is authorship breaking down. Think mashups, remixes, fan fiction.
 
Librarians know information very well, but this is an attention economy. What bubbles up may not be the best, but it gets people’s attention.
 
She sees three places where intervention is needed: Net neutrality (all bits are created equal), DRM (locking down journal access and all forms of sharing information, make new cultural artifacts after old artifacts), and mobile (web 2.0 will come into the mobile arena). She has trouble seeing YouTube videos her ISP doesn’t care for. She gets cease and desist letters saying she can’t link to a site—why would this be a violation of intellectual property law? We don’t have standards for mobile interoperability and we need to recognize the delocatability that mobile encourages. Using mobile devices you can take what you locate and broadcast it elsewhere.
 
She believes we’re at "a big melting moment." How shall we shape and move not just information and technology but how people interact with it? Social media and networking technologies will reshape the world as we know it. We need to adapt and use information and technology in new and innovative ways.
 
Lots of fascinating ideas and her slides were mostly photos rather than dense Powerpoints. Very invigorating!
 
Marydee Ojala
 
 
 

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