Social Networks and Reputation

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you probably already know the story. Last week, I received an email invitation from one of my favorite Paraguayos to yet another social networking site I’d never heard of. Against what turns out to have been my better judgment, I joined, casually skipping the now ubiquitous “invite your friends” bit, deciding after about 30 seconds of poking around that there really wasn’t much to get excited about and I’d rather just email said favorite Paraguayo, and logged off. End of story, right?

Wrong! Within hours I was wading through a flood of emails–the rectal surgeon from the UK I’d done a logo for, my visiting teaching companion from 3 years ago, the landlord I fought tooth and nail over a deposit with–they were all joining this network. Turns out the sneaky buggers had “invited” all my “friends” for me…multiple times.

Over an over, from my sister-in-law to my print broker to a faculty member I’d been working with on a newsletter with, confused, frustrated acquaintances said the same thing; “I just figured since it was from you…” Even more concluded relieved responses to my attempted reparations with the similar sentiments; “I was skeptical, but I was about to join, just because it was from you.” One friend went even further; “I figured it must be really important because you’re not usually so persistent unless it really matters to you.”

As the responses have continued to trickle in, the magnitute of what these sneaky marketers have tapped in to has begun to crystalize. Granted, as far as I know, no actual money was exchanged in this fiasco, but they effectively “sold” their product using my reputation. It’s lead me to a couple of conclusions:

  • Most of us probably have more influence than we think.
  • Testimonials, even indirect ones, are truly powerful marketing tools [for whatever it is you might be “selling”]
  • Endorsing/promoting/contributing to any kind of mediated effort [social networks, distance programs, open education resources, etc.] requires a person to engage/risk their reputation more than I realized–and there is an element of stewardship [on my part] there I had not considered.

So, while I have stopped deluding myself that the debacle is over [I’ll probably be hearing about repercussions for months], at least I can say I’ve learned from the mistake.

Fragmenting Communication

At some point in the past 4 days, Kate suggested pedicures. I didn’t remember the date or time. Nor did I remember responding. I checked my inboxes: gmail, facebook and text messages…nope. I checked my RSS feed-reader, chat archives, skype log, twitter updates…nope. I searched my facebook wall, my blog dashboards, my inbox [again.] Nothing.

Then I started to feel a little crazy. Were we actually speaking face to face? I would have sworn I’d seen it written. What color was it? What typeface? Have I started “typing” verbal conversations in my head?

I never did find it. Ended up, after a disproportionately long mental debate about what medium to use, sending her an email…and really wondering about the quantity/quality balance of my own “connectedness.”

Joining the Wikipedians

“So, SaraJoy, you’ve just completed your first major edit to a Wikipedia article. How do you feel?”

Well, Bernard, I’m actually surprised how satisfied I feel. I feel like I’ve contributed something–picked up where someone else left off and made the information available to the world on something I really care about quite a bit more complete and compelling. I feel pretty good.

Also a little scared though. Yeah, got some butterflies about what might happen in the next couple days. How will people react? Will they think I’ve done a terrible job? Did I actually get something wrong? All that. Actually I care quite a bit more about that than I thought I would.

“How did this compare to other writing you do on a regular basis?”

Writing for Wikipedia was actually quite a revealing experience that way. I enjoy writing immensely, and even though “encyclopedic” isn’t exactly how I’d describe my natural voice, it was stimulating to work at concise, objective statements of facts that wouldn’t put the reader to sleep. The thing that struck me, however, was how much more meticulous and discerning I was about sourcing and fact-checking for this piece. It’s with more than a little chagrin that I admit to feeling significantly more motivated to maintain stringent accuracy, locate credible sources, and ferret out interesting facts for an audience of 40,000 complete strangers than I usually have been for a professor, or even myself.

“What do you think you’ll do next?”

Truth be told, I think I’d actually enjoy becoming a regular contributor to Wikipedia. It flexed my writing muscles well enough and could be down right exciting if I found a couple mates to be editing buddies with–critique and contribute to each other’s edits etc. Trouble is, I haven’t got the time. Between bouncing around on the web in search of references, emailing experts, trying to incorporate as much of the existing text as possible into the re-write, and the whole coding bit, this little article took me hours! Maybe when I’m through with school…

Article? What’s an Article?

For New Media, Social Media and Learning the week, I’ve been assigned to “Do some additional Googling in search of articles about educational uses of wikis.” We had a similar assignment last week, on the subject of educational blogging, and I was [only a little] surprised to find that none of the “articles” my classmates and I referenced had ever even been published on paper.

Not only are your traditional, peer-reviewed, scholarly journal “articles” few and far between [nothing is few and far between on the Internet] surprisingly difficult to track down online, they tend to be significantly longer, denser, boring-er, and [forgive me] uglier than many of the myriad alternatives egalitarian electronic self-publishing has wrought. Blog posts [and their often even more engaging comment threads], wiki “articles,” snips on newspaper and magazine sites [which may or may not be produced by the same people running the printed rags of the same names] and [gasp!] commercial websites often provide significantly more concise, engaging information than the sources I’ve been taught to search and cite since grade school. Perhaps even more significant, “articles” produced by my classmates in response to this assignment are now considered some of the most relevant Internet offerings on the subject.

In this brave new media world, what is an “article?”

In response to this vexing question, I did what any self-respecting 21st-century American would do. I google-d it.

“w-h-a-t-_-i-s-_-a-n-_-a-r-t-i-c-l-e-?”

And the oracle replied.

Based on the top four entries, I can conclude that an article is nonfictional prose forming an independent part of a publication” [or “a member of a small class of determiners that identify a noun’s definite or indefinite reference and new or given status] but more commonly “a page that has encyclopedic information on it” that must pass the “can you sleep there?” test.

Based on that, I think I’m covered.

Mil.

This blog had its 1000th visit today. [no, my clicks don’t count, though I haven’t figured out how to subtract my mother’s :)] Fun stuff.

Just felt like celebrating a little–especially since the next order of magnitude milestone is likely to be a while coming.

The New[?] “Haves” and “Have-Nots”

For several years now, scholars and pundits have been talking about the effects of what they term the “digital divide;” the widening rift between those who have access to and skills to use new information technologies and those who don’t. Often, they speak of this gap as if it has changed the face of privilege in the world–it used to be that material wealth separated the haves and have-nots, now it’s information.

The more I think about it, the more I believe this concept isn’t new. Access to information and learning  has always been what separated the haves from the have-nots. One history of an ancient people includes this observation [and caution]: “And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.”

Whether the idea that knowldge and chances for learning divide haves and have-nots represents a paradigm shift or not, it has been sobering to remember this week that no matter how it’s delineated, I come down squarely on the side of the “haves” every time.

Confession No.2

I am a miserable failure at blogging! … not all that stunning at commitment either 🙂

Eat Crow Fresh

I couldn’t tell you definitively the first time I heard this expression. I vaguely remember being in the corn patch stringing shock line with my dad (to keep the racoons out) while discussing my latest, though not likely greatest socio/economic foible.

Reminiscence aside, the gist of the phrase is if you have to do something unpleasant; eating crow, for example, best to do it right away because chances are it will only get more unpleasant with time.

As it has been nearly two months since my last post here–or anywhere for that matter–I figure I’ve got a little crow on the menu.

Sure, I’ve been busy. Life hurtles along at its usual break-neck pace and I have had more than a little whiplash lately. I’m confident the design community has gotten along quite nicely and would doubtless continue to do so without so much as wondering where I went. But a healthy dose of guilt from a handful of parties (yes, Clifton, that includes you) who believe passionately in the power of discource in design and at least passively in my ability to contribute to it has metaphorically plopped a seasoned breast of crow on my life-plate and, since I don’t want to eat it cold for breakfast tomorrow (the rule at my house growing up,) I hereby commit to one entry every seven days for the next fifty two weeks.

Starting…(gulp)…now.