10 Minutes with (me and) Social Media: My AU Honors Capstone Conference Presentation

13 April, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you missed out on the AU Honors Capstone Conference this morning, you can still see (read) my presentation!

Should we tweet the future? Research and stories on social media. Click here to see it: http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/7621895

Before we get started I have 1 important question – what happens to your Facebook profile when you die?

You’re probably one of Facebook’s half a billion users. You probably have at least 1 email account. You either text or tweet, or instant message. You might also have a Netflix account, or maybe a Flickr where you share all of your photos. And if you’re really into online, you might have an entire SecondLife virtual reality account.

I don’t want to be morbid – but just to get you thinking about realm of my Capstone –  have you considered what happens to these online accounts when you die?

Rest assured – companies have sprouted up to handle your online affairs post-mortem.

But it’s new predicaments like this that started me thinking about where social media will take our society in the future.

So let me walk you through my research on social media, and show you how I used it to write 3 short stories.

Don’t worry if you’re not using all of these. What I want to show you today is that these are just websites and applications. And individually, people are choosing which ones make sense for their life.

You don’t have to be the person filming and uploading a video to YouTube. You can be the average American, who watches at least 30 minutes of video online, every day.
You don’t have to be the person building apps and games for Facebook and smartphones. You can be part of the social gaming community who bought $2.2 billion dollars worth of virtual goods in 2009. Yes – $2.2 billion real dollars on things like Farmville.
And you don’t have to be one of the 15 million active users tweeting all day long. You can be one of the 175 million registered Twitter users, gathering your news and daily info from what other people tweet.

The blanket term “social media” encompasses a huge swell in information technology and social sharing tools, and their growth has been so rapid and so ubiquitous, that there are lots of things you probably use every day, but don’t think about as social media.

We have a tendency to just talking about the tools, instead of the social phenomena behind them. You might send a text message, leave a comment on a Washington Post article, bid on something on Ebay, follow a sports game on your blackberry during class.

My point is, I could blog about this every day and still never catch up to the innovations and changes happening daily, (I think that’s what happens at the Mashable and Technorati blogs) so in order to fit this capstone into one semester, I chose 3 distinct social media topics to research – 1 Crowdsourcing, 2 creating an online branding or identity, and 3 new intersections of information and democracy.

1– Possibly the biggest, most well-known crowdsourced project is Wikipedia. There are over 14 million registered accounts,but only 2%, 300,000 of those have edited articles at least 10 times, and only 5,000 have made edits more than 100 times – that’s not even 1%. And these are just the people contributing a little information here and there, not to mention the millions who never edit an article, but visit the site simply to view the information. This is the power of crowdsourcing – everyone contributes a little, to their ability, and the collective self-corrects. Here are a few more examples – like Threadless and Seti@Home.

2– Since we’re doing so much online, it’s only natural that people began crafting online identities.

13 years ago, Tom Peters wrote an article in Fast Company telling us how everyone could begin to build their own brand – just like Nike or Starbucks – with the tools of the internet. Just over a decade later, we have more tools than he could have imagined at the time, and the number one piece of advice is to carve out your niche.

Choose your field. In an online crowd of over 1 billion, you can’t be the expert on everything, so become the expert at something. Contribute to related websites. Tweet on that 1 subject. Build a blog around your niche.
But as we narrow our selves to such specific audiences and feedback, we create new dangers, like cyberbullying, and a “filter bubble” where we only see opinions just like our own.

3– Now let’s look backwards for a moment and think about books. When we think information revolution! we generally think Gutenberg! The truth is yes, books did spread knowledge, but they didn’t democratize it for the masses. It was still the royal and wealthy who could afford to have books printed, and they decided what that would be.

Jump back to today. Countries like China still have strict censorship in place, but in most of the world, is social media doing what books couldn’t? You and I can now publish anything we want and share it with most of the world. Are we almost there? Are we almost an information democracy? Much like Wikileaks, the jury’s still out on this one.

Within these three topics, with all of these ideas, and with these constantly growing statistics in mind, I wanted my capstone to do what my major is really about – communicate. And so from each of these topics, I’ve been asking questions, looking forward, and writing short stories.

I chose social media because it’s at the nexus of all communication we now do, and I chose to represent that in story for 2 reasons:
Because these ideas don’t need more academic stats (you can find them yourself with Google or Wikipedia). There are several great books that cover the nuts and bolts, I wanted to create something as flexible and accessible as social media itself.

And second, because story really is at the heart of all social media.

I don’t want to just tell people how we’re crowdsourcing right now. I want to paint you a picture of what it might look like if our entire society operated as efficiently and with as much passion and involvement as Threadless-the tshirt company.

I don’t want to just tell people that creating your online identity can create new opportunities, and a bucketful of new problems. I want to introduce you to a panel of fictional bloggers who may have branded themselves online a little too successfully.

And I don’t want to only explain to you how social media is altering power distributions where even the book, the telephone, and the television failed. I want to help you envision where these changes could take our society – with one wrong, or right turn.

And ultimately, I wanted to create a Capstone that was as understandable and interesting to my non-techie parents and my younger siblings, as to my professors and fellow students. Who doesn’t enjoy reading a story?

If I’ve done my job, you not only want to go create your brand online and write a Wikipedia article. I’ve also piqued your interest in these (forthcoming) short stories on social media.

You can find more on me @suchthekaitlin. Thank you.


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